NASHVILLE — State figures show 65,491 Tennesseans last week took advantage of the first four days of early voting as they began casting ballots in the March 3 Super Tuesday presidential primary, as well as a smattering of local contests across the state.
In Hamilton County, 4,200 voters showed up to vote from Wednesday through Saturday. Of that number 2,189 cast ballots in the Republican presidential primary featuring President Donald Trump, according to postings on the Tennessee secretary of state's website Sunday afternoon.
But the remaining 2,011 Hamilton County residents who voted in the heated Democratic primary weren't far behind. The contest features former Vice President Joe Biden; billionaire businessman and former New York City mayor Mike Bloomberg; South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg; U.S. Sens. Bernie Sanders, Amy Klobachar and Elizabeth Warren, billionaire and businessman Tom Steyer and others.
Early voting resumed Monday in Hamilton and many of Tennessee's other 95 other counties. But some county election commissions were closed for President's Day. Early voting will continue through Feb. 25.
Just last week, Bloomberg held rallies in Chattanooga and later in Nashville. Bloomberg is skipping states with earlier primaries and instead spending big on Super Tuesday, when Tennessee, Alabama, North Carolina, Texas, California and nine other states will hold their primaries.
Bloomberg is personally spending $4.5 million in Tennessee alone on broadcast and cable television as well as digital advertising, according to The Cook Political Report. He also is paying for $4.4 million in advertising in Alabama and $8.8 million in North Carolina, and the former mayor has hired a host of Tennessee Democratic political operatives for his effort here.
Statewide in Tennessee last week, 39,647 Republicans voted in federal and local primaries, while 25,808 Democrats cast ballots.
But that's only a fraction of Tennessee's 4 million registered voters. And with early voting continuing through Feb. 25, Tennesseans have quite a hill to climb to match 2016 when 377,460 people voted early statewide during Super Tuesday out of 1.24 million votes eventually cast.
Hamilton County's four-day turnout figure last week was enough to place the county No. 3 among the state's 95 counties in numbers of votes cast.
Kerry Steelman, the county's election administrator, said that after the first four days of early voting, "the voter participation rate remains consistent with the comparable 2016" presidential preference primary. "In 2016, approximately 10% of the county's registered voters cast a ballot during early voting; however, early voters accounted for 24% of the total vote turnout."
Figures show that during Hamilton County's first four days of early voting, the number of county voters casting early ballots rose 10.61% over 2016, according to Tennessee Secretary of State Division of Election figures. That was attributable to an increase in Democrats voting, with the number rising from 1,450 in 2016 to 2,189 this year in what has proven to be a far more freewheeling 2020 primary for the party.
The number of Republicans voting in Hamilton, meanwhile, dipped from 2,447 in 2016 to 2,189 last week over the first four days of early voting, according to state Division of Election figures. Trump faces minimal GOP primary opposition from former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld. Former U.S. Rep. Joe Walsh dropped out of the GOP primary Feb. 7, but his name remains on the Tennessee ballot.
And the names of four former Democratic candidates who recently dropped out — U.S. Sens. Michael Bennett of Colorado and Cory Booker of New Jersey as well as former U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro and businessman Andrew Young — remain on Tennessee's ballot.
During the first four days of early voting, Knox County ranked No. 1 statewide in ballots cast with 6,278 Republicans and Democrats voting, outpacing the state's most populous county, heavily Democratic Shelby, which was second highest with 5,827 total votes cast.
Of Knox County's total votes, 3,638 were cast in the GOP primary, while 2,634 voted in the Democratic primary. In Shelby, 4,008 voted in the Democratic primary while 1,819 voted in GOP primary contests.
Meanwhile, Knox, which has a slew of local races on the ballot, had more than double the number of voters than in the state's second largest county, Davidson, where just 2,866 people showed up to vote.
In fact, Davidson County came in at No. 5 among total votes cast as nearby Rutherford edged out heavily Democratic Davidson by two more votes — 2,868. In Davidson, which is Metro Nashville, 1,953 voted in the Democratic primary, while 913 cast ballots in the GOP's.
In Southeast Tennessee, 1,529 people in Bradley cast ballots last week, according to the secretary of state's website. In Marion and Meigs counties, 476 and 311 people, respectively, voted early.
Neither Hamilton nor most if not all the rest of Republican Tennessee are considered in play in November as Trump seeks election to a second term. The last time Democrats won the state in a presidential election was 1996 and that was only by a plurality. In 2000, voters here chose Republican George W. Bush over Democrat and then-Vice President Al Gore, a former U.S. senator and congressman from Tennessee.
Contact Andy Sher at firstname.lastname@example.org or 615-255-0550. Follow him on Twitter @AndySher1.