Blount County administrator of elections Libby Breeding had a theory as to why so many turned out for the presidential preference primary election Tuesday.
“I think people were waiting to make up their minds,” she said. “From the calls we got, the precincts were pretty heavy. We didn’t have surveys to know for sure but it seemed like people were waiting to see who dropped out.”
Breeding said that the electronic voting machines worked well. “We had plenty of long lines,” she said. “The machines did not fail, it was just the length the ballot.”
Republican voters had to vote for delegates so that meant the ballot was longer for them. Some places were more crowded than at others. “We had long lines at William Blount Middle School,” she said.
Mae Owenby, a volunteer, said that the last person to vote on election day cast their vote on 9:15 p.m. at William Blount Middle School. Nine-hundred fourty-three individuals cast votes Tuesday, she said.
Breeding gave statistics that showed about 25,000 voters cast ballots. According to unofficial results after all 52 precincts reported, there were 9,295 Democratic ballots cast and 14,929 Republican ballots cast.
On the Republican Presidential Preference Primary, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee won Blount County with 5,135 or 34.40 percent of the vote. Sen. John McCain followed with 4,915 or 32.92 percent, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney came next with 3,008 and Texas Congressman Ron Paul brought in 1,224 votes or 8.20 percent of the vote.
On the Democratic side, Sen. Hillary R. Clinton won Blount County with 5,713 votes or 61.46 percent of the vote. Barack Obama came in second with 3,086 votes or 33.20 percent of the vote followed by former Sen. John Edwards with 397 votes or 4.27 percent of the vote.
Circuit Court Judge Mike Meares got 7,032 votes while running unopposed in the Democratic primary for his Division II seat. General Sessions Judge David Duggan got 9,222 votes or 59.83 percent of the vote.
Meares thanked everyone who voted in the primary. “I appreciate all the support and I also want to encourage everyone, regardless of political affiliation, to vote for me on Aug. 7,” he said. “My campaign is just starting and this is a great start. Obviously, running unopposed, the campaign really starts now for me.”
Meares said he’s enjoyed meeting people and getting to see folks he’s not spoken with in years. “I really enjoyed that,” he said.
Meares’ competition in the race for his seat, General Sessions Judge David Duggan, said now the campaign starts in earnest for the county general election in August. “I’m very encouraged by the votes we got tonight,” he said of the 9,222 votes he got to the 7,032 votes Meares got. “I think that is an excellent vote and I’m very encouraged by it,” he said. “Obviously there is a lot of hard work to be done between now and August.”
Blount County Democratic Party Chair Dave Finch said many area members of the party have been busy working on Meares’ campaign. “They’ve got their campaign up and running quite well. We’re happy with the turnout and are looking forward to the general election,” he said. “I think it shows Democrats are turning out in Blount County in ways I’m tickled pink about.”
Finch said national events and voter excitement over candidates like Hillary Clinton, Barak Obama and Mitt Romney have stoked voter interest in voting during the primary.
“A lot of that is driven by events in Washington. People are wanting change on both sides,” he said. “Democrats are fired up; I’ve gotten calls from people wanting Obama signs and Hillary signs,” he said. “That stuff will come out once we get candidates.”
Blount County Republican Party Chair Dave Bennett said voter turnout continues to be low. “I can’t say I’m excited about voter turnout when you’re looking at 25,000 voters out of 60,000 registered voters,” Bennett said. “It’s not a bad turnout by any stretch but I’d like to see all 60,000 registered voters out. I wish we could get all people out to vote, whether Republican or Democrat.”
Bennett said he was proud of General Sessions Judge David Duggan for how he has conducted his campaign thus far. “He’s got a terrific message and really hasn’t done any campaigning. He’s saving his energy for the general election and we’ve got a long general election campaign,” Bennett said.
Historically in 2006 there were two and a half months between the primary and the general election. Now since the Tennessee presidential preference primary was moved up to Super Tuesday, the first Tuesday in February during an election year, the general election for county offices is longer. “What does that mean other than longer campaigns? You need more money to campaign,” he said. “It probably won’t be heavy campaigning until the summer, closer to August.”
Bennett said that while the Duggan/Meares match up will be a well watched race, the state primary race for State Senate including incumbent Sen. Raymond Finney and State Rep. Doug Overbey will be closely monitored.
“Ultimately, as chair of the party, what I’m going to do is wish both the best of luck and which ever one is victorious is the one I’ll support in the general election,” he said. “I think it will be a hard-fought campaign, and I think it will be a close race. At the end of the day, my pledge to both of them will be that which ever one is victorious, I will support.”