Election results anticipated

Wednesday, November 5, 2008
Photo by Beth Leftwich Candidates Sen. Barack Obama (O'Shea Tears) and Sen. John McCain (Tyler Sechrest) give their closing remarks during a mock debate recently at Lewisburg Middle School. For more pictures of the debate and information about it, see Page A4. For coverage of Election Day, go to marshalltribune.com.

A lot of Marshall County voters probably identified with other Tennesseans yesterday, voting for John McCain or Barack Obama to succeed George Bush as pollsters and pundits predicted the state would stay GOP-red while the nation was turning Democrat-blue.

Therefore, two of the county's more politically astute businessmen -- Grover Collins and Don Wright -- were asked for their views before the votes were counted. Both said the economy was one of the major factors in the presidential election that concluded with the biggest voter turnout ever recorded.

And while McCain's visit to the Tri-Cities Airport in upper East Tennessee on Monday night seemed to have indicated Tennessee was still in play, Marshall County native Jack Higgs, 76, a retired professor at East Tennessee State University, said the GOP candidate's campaign strategy was probably reaching for access to three or four other state's media markets. Virginia is just 20 miles north of the Blountville campaign stop and so it was close enough to affect news reports that night and on election day.

However, "I think this county will go Democratic," Collins predicted Monday afternoon. His reasons included "the negative e-mail that's been sent out regarding Obama's religious activities... that he's really a Muslim." County residents may have seen through the attempt to create unrest, said Collins, but he didn't know exactly how to read those tea leaves.

Marshall County "has gone Republican a few times... but I think the economic situation plays a big roll here," Collins said.

Collins is a senior statesman in the local Democratic Party. He led the campaign for Bill Clinton here and has photos of the former president on his office wall showing scenes from that campaign.

Wright is: a member of he Marshall County Election Commission; a GOP leader, and; a former county commissioner. He saw the economy as a significant factor in the election, and saw strength for his party's nominee.

"Given this history of a strong Democratic party locally, the apparent excitement in the population that historically voted in a low percentage, I think it will be close in Marshall County, given the influx of new voters from other Republican areas of the United States who live predominantly north of the Duck River," Wright said. "McCain may be able to squeak out a victory here and I certainly believe McCain will win the State of Tennessee."

Former U.S. Sen. "Fred Thompson... was very popular in Tennessee and was preferred by voters in southern Middle Tennessee," Wright said. "At one point, before the Iowa caucuses, Sen. McCain was thought to be out of the picture. At that time, there were a number of candidates in the Republican caucus, however Sen. McCain separated himself from the rest of the field. Going on... he had the determination to persevere, which is one of his strongest points...

"Local party members see in Sen. McCain, an honest, hard working patriot who would defend our country with his own life," Wright said.

Both Wright and Collins spoke knowing their comments were for publication after the polls were closed.

Collins said he was surprised by views he'd heard from those who might be called good ol' boy voters, although he declined to subscribe to any particular description of heritage-minded local voters.

People "are tired of the war and the economy and being ignored as far as health care is concerned," Collins said.

He quoted a woman, who he declined to name, as asking how the country could expect McCain to get the nation out of a war when he's a fourth generation veteran. From a business perspective, one might ask if someone with that background was sheltered from work in the real world of commerce and having to sell products.

A national landslide for Obama was quite possible, Collins said.

Higgs, the Naval Academy graduate who's been teaching literature at East Tennessee State University, said "McCain was a plebe when I was an upperclassman (at the Naval Academy in Annapolis.) My room-mate knew him well."

McCain lifted weights with Higgs' room-mate, Alex Aronis, who went on to attain fame as a bodybuilder.

East Tennessee "has a long history" of support for Republican candidates -- traced back to 50,000 troops fighting for the Union in the Civil War, he said.

"There might be surprising support for Obama in these parts, but I think it will go for McCain," said Higgs who grew up in Marshall County.

McCain's campaign stop at the Tri-Cities Airport Monday afternoon was probably more about Virginia, North Carolina and Kentucky than Tennessee, Higgs said, "because I believe this is locked up for Republicans here." Virginia was a battleground state for the campaign and Higgs noted a striking difference between voters in Southwest Virginia and those in the "Northern Virginia military industrial complex" just south of Washington, D.C.

"It really made a lot of sense for him to come here," Higgs said. "Another state that's not far away is West Virginia. There will be people from West Virginia at the Tri-County Airport," he said Monday afternoon.

There were to many variables in the election for Higgs to predict a winner, he said.

"It looks like Obama has got the edge, but you can't tell," he said. "There's the military vote to be counted..."

Wright spoke last week when he noted the early voter turnout.

"John McCain represents the conservative issues that are more popular in Tennessee in the last Decade," Wright said. "In light of 5,000 early voters, it appears that Sen. Obama has excited new and younger voters

"Our county has one of the highest unemployment rates in the state after the closing of the ICP plant," Wright said. "People usually vote with their pocketbooks and they are anxious about a decent job."

"As to the racial issue, I hope Marshall County has moved past racial barriers," he said. "We have certainly learned the importance of including all people in our church life, in our service and civic clubs and both city and county government. Our school system... has taken the lead in total integration in all positions. This is a great change from the attitudes of our grandfathers' time, only two to three generations removed...

"Our country will survive the present (financial) crisis on the basic principles that we were founded -- with true values based on faith, rooted in our Christian belief and by abiding by the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."

Wright also quoted the late Tip O'Neill, a Democrat and former Speaker of the House.

"Issues can vary from different types and ages of people," Wright said. "Accordingly, we could say, 'All politics is local.'"