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Staff Photo by Matt Hamilton / Chattanooga resident Chandra Ward holds a sign as Evelina Kertay speaks at Coolidge Park on Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2020. About 75 people gathered for the "Rally for Democracy." Kertay is the vice president of the Young Democratic Socialists of America at UTC.

While votes in the 2020 presidential election are still being counted days after polls closed in several states with razor-thin margins — including Georgia — Republican President Donald Trump won big in the Chattanooga region, with over two and a half times the votes for Democrat Joe Biden.

In 21 counties across Southeast Tennessee, Northwest Georgia and Northeast Alabama covered by the Times Free Press, Trump won over 70.6% of the vote, with Biden receiving 27.6%. Third-party and independent candidates like Libertarian Jo Jorgensen and hip hop mogul Kanye West accounted for the remaining 1.8%.

"There was not a lot of good news for Tennessee Democrats on election night," said Dr. Kent Syler, professor of political science at Middle Tennessee State University. "Democrats did well in the urban areas, but they absolutely got demolished in the rural areas of Tennessee."

Some suburban areas showed a bit of a crack in the "red wall" but Trump won by better than 3-to-1 margins in rural counties around Chattanooga.

"The rural counties are devastating to the chances for any statewide Democratic candidate in Tennessee," Syler said. "That was a phenomenon that was occurring before Donald Trump, but Trump has certainly energized it and become something of a folk hero in many rural counties."

Trump won all 21 counties in the Chattanooga region. The region's most urban county, Hamilton County, came the closest to favoring Biden, by giving him 43.9% of the vote. That's up from the 38.3% support in Hamilton County for Hillary Clinton, the Democratic candidate in 2016.

"I think there are a lot of people that grew up around here and just believe what they were told by default," 31 year-old Brinton Hester of Hixson said Thursday.

During this, his fourth presidential election, Hester voted a completely Democratic ticket for the first time after voting for Libertarian Gary Johnson in 2016.

"This time I think there are a lot of us younger voters who are less apathetic than 2016," he added, noting that Trump's conduct toward marginalized groups and stance on health care were deal breakers for him. "There's a lot at stake."

Conversely, some counties in the region maintained or even slightly grew their support for Trump since 2016.

Trump overwhelmingly defeated Biden in the seven Northwest Georgia counties in the Times Free Press' coverage area. On average, the seven counties voted in favor of Trump with nearly 79% of the vote.

Murray County supported Trump by the widest margin with 84.11% of the vote. On the flip side, Biden received the largest share of support in Whitfield County, where 29% of voters chose the former vice president.

Kevin Tisdel, 60, has lived in Murray County for 27 years. He said voters like him prioritize things like jobs and the economy when it comes to choosing a president.

"Voters in Murray County are mostly driven by economics," said Tisdel, who recently became the first vice chair of the local GOP chapter after the group had a few members drop off. "The blue collar and white collar guys that I talked to, and this is just personal opinion and what I've gathered, is that they wish [Trump] wouldn't tweet as much. But he brought the jobs back."

When the coronavirus pandemic shut down the country, Tisdel knew it would damage Trump's record on the economy. After seeing economic improvements in the third quarter, Tisdel felt he, Republican voters and Trump were somewhat vindicated.

"This is why we want this guy," Tisdel said. "The American first attitude sells here."

Tisdel said Biden's shaky stance on fossil fuels and oil production doesn't sit well with voters in Murray County, where manufacturing is a large part of the economy. Carpets are made from petroleum byproducts, Tisdel pointed out.

Tisdel is realistic with the idea of Georgia turning blue, which results are indicating is a real possibility. He admitted it's driving him crazy how long some election offices are taking to tabulate results and said even if or when Georgia does flip, the state and country will be divided "for a little bit."

"And that's a shame," he said. I don't know how to bridge that divide."

Contact Patrick Filbin at pfilbin@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6476. Follow him on Twitter @PatrickFilbin.

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