Georgia, Tennessee voters head to the polls - | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

Decision 2012

Georgia, Tennessee voters head to the polls

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(WRCB) - Across both Tennessee and Georgia, voters head to the polls today to make their selections for the presidential primary.

A total of 10 states will hold primaries today, in what has been dubbed Super Tuesday. At stake are 419 delegates for the GOP candidates.

Currently, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney holds the delegate lead with 119, but any candidate hoping to clench the nomination needs 1,143 delegates.

In Tennessee the polls close at 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, while in Georgia, the polls close at 7:00 p.m.

While early voting numbers were down sharply from the last presidential primary in 2008, the major GOP candidates had ramped up their attention to Tennessee in the last week with campaign stops and a barrage of television ads.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has drawn the endorsement of several top Republicans in the state, including Gov. Bill Haslam and U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander.

Meanwhile, former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich made a series of appearances between Kingsport and Memphis in the days before the vote.

Tennessee has 55 delegates up for grabs, third most among the 10 Super Tuesday states.

Republican operative Josh Thomas, a Romney supporter, said Santorum's focus on religious and social issues may come as an advantage in Tennessee. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee won the state's Republican primary in 2008 on a similar platform, while Romney came in third.

"So that bodes well for Rick Santorum's brand of conservatism and economic populism," Thomas said.

But Thomas cited Romney's superior organization this year, as well as the endorsements of several prominent state Republicans.

"Tennessee's primary will be closer than most anticipate," he said.

Bob Davis, a former state Republican Party chairman, said endorsements will only take a candidate so far.

"Tennesseans are independent-minded thinkers, they don't necessarily like people to tell them how to vote," he said. "They've gone against the grain a few times, and I think Tuesday will be really interesting."

At a Santorum rally outside Knoxville last week, Anderson County teacher Parker Stanley said the former senator carries the least political and personal baggage among the candidates.

"They're trying to say he's a rightist Christian," he said. "And I don't think that will be as damaging as what they can say against Romney, or about Gingrich."

At a Haslam-led rally for Romney in Memphis last week, voters said they like Romney's past business experience, saying it will help lead the country out of sluggish economic times.

"A lot of Southern voters love all that Christian rhetoric," said Meg Crisp, 55, an accountant from Nashville. "We're not electing a radio talk show host. If we were, I think Gingrich would be a good person. We're also not electing a pastor, we're electing the president of the United States.

"I personally think the separation of church and state is a really good thing," she said. "I want a president, not a pastor."

After the rally, Haslam acknowledged Santorum's charisma and ability to connect with voters.

"Santorum does have a personality that fits," the governor said. "But the more time people spend around (Romney), the more they like him."

Voters will be heading to poll sites across Georgia with much on the line for former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who is looking to regain momentum in the race for the Republican presidential nomination.

Gingrich represented Georgia for 20 years and has been leading in state polls over Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum and Ron Paul. Georgia has the most delegates up for grabs on Super Tuesday. The polls will be open from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m.

Gingrich has focused extensively on Georgia, spending much of last week here rather than campaigning in the other Super Tuesday states. Rivals Romney and Santorum have also dedicated time and resources in the state.

Other states holding Super Tuesday contests are Alaska, Idaho, Ohio, Oklahoma, Massachusetts, North Dakota, Vermont and Virginia.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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