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Staff photo by Troy Stolt / Sandy Roberts of Harrison, Tennessee, helps her husband Mike with his mask before heading into the Hamilton County Election Commission to vote during the third day of early voting in the Tennessee statewide primary elections on Monday, July 20, 2020 in Chattanooga.

NASHVILLE — Tennesseans set a blistering pace during the first seven days of state early and absentee voting in the Aug. 6 election, more than doubling numbers of votes cast during the same time frame in 2012 and 2016, state figures show.

With a hotly contested Republican U.S. Senate primary race on the ballot as well as possible concerns over the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, 284,517 people cast ballots statewide from July 17 through last Friday, July 24, according to figures on Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett's Division of Elections website.

Of that number, 177,626 Republicans and 102,430 Democrats picked up party primary ballots with voters who are also faced with making choices in state legislative primaries and some contests for local and county offices, including some nonpartisan offices.

The total number of voters casting early ballots so far in the Aug. 6 primary blew through the 114,753 people who did during the first seven days in the 2016 August primary — representing a 149.54% increase at this juncture. This year's voting also eclipsed the August primary 2012 seven-day total, when 139,455 people had voted. The 2020 seven-day figure is a 104.02% increase over 2012.

For Republicans, the ballot is dominated by an ugly GOP U.S. Senate primary street fight between former U.S. ambassador Bill Hagerty and Nashville trauma surgeon Manny Sethi as they struggle to become the party's nominee in the Nov. 3 general election to succeed retiring incumbent Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander.

Closer to home, voters in Hamilton and Bradley counties are thronged to hit early voting sites or cast mail-in absentee ballots.

As of last Friday, 12,946 Hamilton Countians had voted in contests ranging from local school boards to the U.S. Senate primaries.

Hamilton County's vote tally as of Friday was 8,157 more people who voted than the 4,789 people who did so in the same time frame in 2016, a 170.3% jump. In 2012, the total number of voting in primaries and other contests during the first seven days was 8,423. This year's 4,253-voter increase represents a 53.7% increase over eight years ago.

In Bradley County, a GOP stronghold, the 4,303 people who have voted so far this year represents a 74.78% jump or 1,841 more people over 2016 where 2,462 cast ballots during the early vote period. Compared to 2012, however, the increase was only 292 people over eight years ago, a 7.25% increase.

Tennessee early voting continues through Aug. 1.

State Republicans' 2020 primary battle between Hagerty and Sethi has generated national attention and competing endorsements, several from three potential 2024 Republican presidential rivals with U.S. Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Rand Paul of Kentucky coming into Tennessee in support of Sethi. U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Arkansas, was here in support of Hagerty.

President Donald Trump, who announced and endorsed private equity investment firm founder Hagerty's candidacy while Hagerty was still the U.S. ambassador to Japan, earlier this month said it was a "real race," although he is backing Hagerty. Fox News opinion host Sean Hannity tweeted Saturday that Hagerty "has my total support."

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

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