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Poll: Tennessee voters divided over state of the nation

November 7, 2018
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Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., speaks to supporters after she was declared the winner over former Gov. Phil Bredesen in their race for the U.S. Senate Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018, in Franklin, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

Voters casting midterm election ballots in Tennessee are divided over the state of the nation, according to a wide-ranging survey of the American electorate.

As voters cast ballots for governor, U.S. Senate and members of Congress in Tuesday’s elections, AP VoteCast found that slightly more than half of Tennessee voters said the country is on the right track, compared with a little less than half who said the country is headed in the wrong direction.

Here’s a snapshot of who voted and why in Tennessee, based on preliminary results from AP VoteCast, an innovative nationwide survey of about 139,000 voters and nonvoters — including 3,831 voters and 779 nonvoters in the state of Tennessee — conducted for The Associated Press by NORC at the University of Chicago.

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GRUELING SENATE SHOWDOWN

Republican U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn won a grueling contest to become the first female U.S. senator from Tennessee, keeping a key midterm seat under GOP control. She defeated Democratic former Gov. Phil Bredesen by closely aligning her bid with President Donald Trump, who drummed up support for her on three visits to the state that he won by 26 percentage points.

Blackburn replaces retiring Sen. Bob Corker, who frequently clashed with Trump. The next senator rarely diverged from Trump, and touted his proposed U.S.-Mexico border wall and tax cuts while blasting Bredesen’s opposition to both. Bredsen had vowed to be an independent voice in Washington. Tennessee’s governor from 2003 to 2011, he vowed if he had been elected to work with Trump when his ideas make sense for Tennessee and oppose the president when they did not.

Blackburn thanked Trump in her victory speech and said she will be a leader who will “work with the president and keep this nation on the path to prosperity that we are on today.” She said she will work to confirm more constitutional judges, decrease taxes, limit regulation, oppose abortion, protect gun rights, get federal spending under control and build the border wall.

The $85 million-plus race set a state record in spending by candidates and outside groups, gaining national interest because of its potential implications for the GOP’s slim majority in the Senate.

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RACE FOR GOVERNOR

Republican businessman and political newcomer Bill Lee has won the Tennessee governor’s race, defeating Democrat and former Nashville mayor Karl Dean. Lee will succeed Republican Gov. Bill Haslam, who was barred by term limits from seeking re-election.

Lee’s election to a four-year term means Republicans are in a good position to retain their trifecta of power through the next round of congressional and state legislative redistricting after the 2020 census. Republicans already hold sizeable majorities in both legislative chambers in Tennessee.

Nick Crandall, a 28-year-old industrial machinery consultant who lives in Nashville, considers himself an independent who can vote either party. But this time he thought voting for nearly all Democrats would tamp down the divisiveness in the country. However, he did vote Lee, saying he liked the businessman’s background.

Lee touted his business success — running Lee Company, a $225 million mechanical contracting and home services firm with more than 1,200 employees — as proof he was fit to govern.

“I always tend to favor private sector experience,” Crandall said. “Bill Lee fit that bill for me today.”

Dean had campaigned on vows to take a bipartisan approach to politics.

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TOP ISSUES

Voters considered several issues to be important to their vote in this midterm election, including immigration and health care by about a quarter each, the economy (2 in 10), trailed by terrorism and gun policy (both less than 1 in 10).

Melissa Nelms, a Knoxville stay-at-home mother of three, said health care was her main concern as she voted. “We’re a self-employed family that can’t afford health insurance,” Nelms said. “We’re educated people. There’s no reason our family shouldn’t have health care, but we can’t afford it.”

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STATE OF THE ECONOMY

Voters have a positive view of the nation’s current economic outlook — three-quarters said the nation’s economy is good, compared with 25 percent who said it’s not good.

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TRUMP FACTOR

For about a third of Tennessee voters, President Donald Trump was not a factor they considered while casting their vote. By comparison, nearly 7 in 10 Trump was a reason for their vote.

Robert and Laura DuBois, conservative Christians from Nashville, voted as avid Trump supporters. Robert Dubois was wearing a red hat with Trump’s signature campaign slogan on it — Make America Great Again— when he voted. Both said they cast ballots for the Republican Blackburn for Senate believing she would back Trump’s agenda. “If you are supporting Blackburn, then you are for Trump,” said Robert DuBois, 50.

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CONTROL OF CONGRESS

Tuesday’s elections will determine control of Congress in the final two years of Trump’s first term in office, and three-quarters of Tennessee voters said which party will hold control was very important as they considered their vote. Nearly 2 in 10 said it was somewhat important.

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AP VoteCast is a survey of the American electorate in all 50 states conducted by NORC at the University of Chicago for The Associated Press and Fox News. The survey of 3,831 voters and 779 nonvoters in Tennessee was conducted Oct. 29 to Nov. 6, concluding as polls close on Election Day. It combines interviews in English or Spanish with a random sample of registered voters drawn from state voter files and self-identified registered voters selected from opt-in online panels. Participants in the probability-based portion of the survey were contacted by phone and mail, and had the opportunity to take the survey by phone or online. The margin of sampling error for voters is estimated to be plus or minus 2.0 percentage points. All surveys are subject to multiple sources of error, including from sampling, question wording and order, and nonresponse. Find more details about AP VoteCast’s methodology at http://www.ap.org/votecast.

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For AP’s complete coverage of the U.S. midterm elections: http://apne.ws/APPolitics

Associated Press writers Steve Megargee in Knoxville, Kimberlee Kruesi and Sheila Burke in Nashville and Adrian Sainz in Memphis contributed to this report.

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