As Super Tuesday approaches in Tennessee, the state has seen the start of presidential campaign visits. Marco Rubio had a rally in Franklin over the weekend where, according to his campaign website, almost 4,000 locals came out to support. This was a triumph for the campaign, as they were only expecting about 1,000 Tennesseans. According to Donald Trump’s website, he will be in Millington, Tennessee this Saturday. Tennessean journalist Dave Boucher reported that Trump has been to Tennessee four times during his campaign, which shows how valuable Trump holds Tennessee in this upcoming primary. The Volunteer State can also expect visits from Ted Cruz and John Kasich later this week.
Tennessee is one of 12 states that will be holding a primary next Tuesday as part of Super Tuesday. In recent election cycles, Republicans have dominated the state. Tennessee has 11 electoral votes and has given these votes to Republican candidates in the past four elections. A Democrat has not won in the state since Bill Clinton in 1992 and 1996. The Knoxville News Sentinel predicted that Tennessee will see most campaign visits early in primary season, since Tennessee is not expected to be a competitive state for this year’s general election. The state will most likely vote for a Republican in the general election regardless of who the nominee ends up being, so candidates will be unlikely to focus on the state after the primaries.
The Knoxville News Sentinel also reported that Tennessee is particularly important to Republicans because it has a large number of delegates and no candidates have a built-in edge in the state, meaning no candidate has any direct ties to Tennessee that would give them a home-field advantage. The Tennessean reporter Holly Meyer wrote about how important Tennessee Evangelical voters will be for Republicans during the upcoming primary. She argued that Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum were able to win Tennessee in 2008 and 2012 because they had support from white, Evangelical Christian voters. She quoted Larry J. Sabato’s Crystal Ball, which reported that Tennessee has the highest number of white Evangelicals out of any state, as many as 70% of voters. This faction will be very important for Republicans to win over next week. It seems likely that these voters would gravitate towards Ted Cruz, who often garners support from religious groups. In Tennessee next week, it will be critical to watch not only how the state votes, but to also observe this important faction of voters.
Despite Tennessee’s recent voter history, the Democratic Party Chair Mary Mancini said that she still believes that Tennessee could be close in the general election. She highlighted Clinton’s wins in 1992 and 1996, suggesting that the climate could change to make the state closely contested again. She said that Tennessee will be a difficult battle for Democratic hopefuls as well, although recent polls have reported that Hillary Clinton has a strong lead.
There have been two statewide polls in Tennessee so far this election cycle. The first was created by Vanderbilt University and results were published in December 2015. This poll had Trump barely beating Carson. Middle Tennessee State University released another poll later in January, when Trump easily won. This MTSU poll also gave Hillary Clinton a strong lead in the Democratic race as well. However, both parties had a large percentage of respondents who reported that they were undecided, 26% of Democrats and 28% of Republicans. Although pollsters predict that Clinton and Trump will win next Tuesday in Tennessee, perhaps those victories are not guaranteed.
Tennessee will certainly be a critical state to watch next Tuesday, especially for Republicans. It will be important to observe how Evangelical Christians vote and how close the margins are for the two winners. Although we can predict that Clinton and Trump will win, the results will not be finalized until next week.
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