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Staff Photo by Dan Henry / The Chattanooga Times Free Press- 8/24/16. Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam speaks during the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce's annual meeting on Wednesday, August 24, 2016.

NASHVILLE — Gov. Bill Haslam said Thursday he has concerns about the long-term future of the Republican Party at the national level.

"When we're losing the way we are with women and minorities and millennials, that's a concern to me," the Republican governor said.

Haslam has previously voiced concerns about GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump and recently said he would not vote for Trump and instead write in another Republican in the Nov. 8 election.

He said he did just that earlier Thursday when he voted early in Knoxville. The governor declined to say for whom he voted except to note it wasn't Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.

Trump has been engulfed in controversy regarding comments he made about women during a recently released recording of a 2005 conversation, after which at least 10 women came forward and accused Trump of having groped or forcibly kissed them in the past.

Haslam has come under fire from fellow Republicans with several Tennessee county GOP organizations for saying he wouldn't vote for Trump.

The Coffee County and Fayette County Republican parties have passed resolutions condemning the governor for his statement and expressing concerns over the impact on down-ballot contests. Several other county parties have reportedly taken similar action.

Asked about those actions, Haslam, who has been campaigning for Republican state legislative candidates this week, said, "I understand, and believe me, I'm not at all excited about Hillary Trump — Hillary Clinton — as president, and I did not vote for her. I'll say that really clearly."

After voting, Haslam cited his concerns with the GOP's direction.

" I've said before, I have some real concerns about the long-term future of the Republican Party when we're losing the way we are with women and minorities and millennials. That's a concern to me," the governor added. "Long term, I have all the faith in the world that our party will continue to represent the things it's represented."

Haslam also said he is pleased Shelby County authorities won't pursue an investigation into singer Justin Timberlake, a Memphis native, who took a photo of himself voting in Shelby and posted it on Instagram.

Taking a photo in a polling place without permission is a violation of Tennessee law.

"I'm glad to see Justin's not going to get into trouble for taking a selfie in the booth," Haslam said. "I think the voter turnout is encouraging. Regardless of who you're voting for, it matters to vote. And I'm incredibly encouraged that Tennesseans are turning out in these record numbers."

The governor's comments came after an event celebrating Tennessee students' success in national science assessments, announced earlier Thursday.

Asked about the governor's remarks, Brent Leatherwood, executive director of the Tennessee Republican Party, said: "You know what wins over voters of all stripes in the long-term? Policies that promote opportunity. That's exactly what the governor is out there touting across the state today."

Leatherwood cited state students' latest showing on the National Assessment of Education Progress, which had the governor traveling the state praising how Tennessee fourth- and eighth-graders doubled the national growth on science assessments, something no other state achieved in 2015.

Tennessee fourth-graders were the fastest-improving nationally, while eighth-graders here ranked No. 2. As a result, Tennessee now ranks 19th and 21st in the country in fourth and eighth grade science, respectively. Those are the highest rankings ever for Tennessee students on the Nation's Report Card.

Educators, parents, and students are "excelling like never before, closing the achievement gap between females and males, as well as whites and minorities, on test scores, and scoring the highest marks in state history," Leatherwood said. "These successes are directly attributable to the vision for education our party has advanced over the last few years."

Contact staff writer Andy Sher at asher@timesfreepress.com or 615-255-0550. Follow on Twitter @AndySher1.

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