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Contributed photo / Greg Vital

NASHVILLE — With just 1,701 Hamilton Countians having cast early ballots through Saturday in the Sept. 14 special Tennessee House District 29 general election, Republican hopeful Greg Vital is looking to gin up more interest in the contest with a Tuesday appearance by Gov. Bill Lee.

"Come grab a cup of coffee with Governor @BillLeeTN at 10:30 a.m. this Tuesday at the The Commons in Collegedale!" tweeted Vital, a Georgetown businessman who faces Democrat DeAngelo Jelks of Ooltewah.

Through Saturday, the early voting site at Collegedale's City Hall, one of four in operation across the county, has drawn the largest number of voters. It accounted for 1,121 of the votes cast so far. Residents voting absentee ranked No. 2 with 193 ballots cast. The Hixson Community Center ranked third with 130 ballots followed by 119 people casting ballots at the Hamilton County Election Commission.

With sites closed Sunday and Monday — Monday is Labor Day — early balloting resumes for its final three days Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.

The race is for the seat of the late Mike Carter of Ooltewah, a former Hamilton County judge who died May 15 of pancreatic cancer. Carter's widow, Joan Carter, was later appointed by the Hamilton County Commission to serve as representative until the Sept. 14 election.

Vital's bringing in Lee underscores the challenges candidates face in drawing interest in a stand-alone state House election where there are no countywide, let alone statewide, contests such as for president, governor, U.S. Senate and Congress where campaigns spend huge sums to spark voter interest and big turnout.

A former Collegedale city commissioner who in 2012 lost a narrow state Senate Republican primary battle to fellow Republican Todd Gardenhire, Vital is taking nothing for granted in his contest with Jelks despite the district, which also includes Harrison, Sale Creek and parts of Chattanooga, being solidly Republican. He hired the consulting firm of a preeminent Tennessee-based political strategist who has been involved in state and federal elections.

"There's no time like RIGHT NOW to get out and vote," Vital reminded voters Friday in a Facebook post. "As your Representative, I will fight to keep taxes low, eliminate costly regulations and help our businesses grow."

Jelks, a human resources recruiter for a Chattanooga business and a U.S. Army Reserve captain, has said the district is winnable. He and his team spent part of Saturday canvassing door-to-door in the Pine Lawn community in Chattanooga's Brainerd section, and he touted his operation in a Facebook video.

"Hey, I just wanted to give y'all an update. It is hot," Jelks says and laughs. "But I'm out here. We're getting it done. I got all these volunteers and such, half my age, trying to do circles around me. But it ain't going to happen because that's how competitive I am. They are here. So am I here, making it happen."

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

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