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Tennessee State Capitol downtown Nashville. Photo by Ricky Rogers (The Tennessean) 4/27/2000
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Todd Gardenhire
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Khristy Wilkinson
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WHERE TO VOTE

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EARLY VOTING

In Hamilton County, early voting runs through Thursday.

The following is a list of early voting polling locations. A photo ID is required to vote.

Brainerd Recreation Center

1010 North Moore Road

Today-Thursday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m.

Eastwood Baptist Church

4300 Ooltewah-Ringgold Road

Today-Thursday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m.

North River Civic Center

1009 Executive Drive, Suite 102

Today-Thursday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m.

Election Commission Office

700 River Terminal Road

Today-Thursday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m.

ELECTION DAY, NOV. 8

Polls will be open in Hamilton County from 8 a.m.-8 p.m. on Election Day. For a complete list of voting locations, visit timesfreepress.com.

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Sample Ballot

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NASHVILLE — Tennessee Democrats are battling this November for political relevancy in a handful or so of state legislative contests as the party seeks to make gains in a General Assembly under command by GOP "super majorities."

Making few pickups is their best-case scenario. The worst would be losing a few more seats in a 99-member House where Republicans control 73 of 99 seats and a 33-member Senate where there are 28 Republicans.

Once-dominant Tennessee Democrats lost control of the General Assembly in 2008 when voters here overwhelmingly backed Republican John McCain over now-President Barack Obama. Democrats have continued to lose, and GOP officials are betting 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton will do little better against their nominee Donald Trump.

In the state Senate, Democrats are hoping to pick up two more senators to add to their current five members.

One of those contests is for Senate District 10, which includes nearly half of Hamilton County and parts of rural Bradley County.

Incumbent Sen. Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga, a retired financial adviser, faces a challenge from Democrat Khristy Wilkinson, a former UT-Chattanooga adjunct professor.

Midway across the state in Davidson County, Democrat Erin Coleman, a Nashville businesswoman, is hoping to knock out Sen. Steve Dickerson, R-Nashville, a physician.

And that's about that for Senate contests being watched by political strategists and others at the state Capitol. Of the 16 even-number districts up for election this year, only four Republicans and one Democrat even have challengers.

Both Wilkinson and Coleman are getting help from state Democrats. Just last week, a little-known Iowa group jumped into the Gardenhire/Wilkinson contest with a $46,000 independent-expenditure television ad buy aimed at boosting Wilkinson's name recognition while never specifically urging voters to cast ballots for her.

Senate Democratic Caucus Chairman Jeff Yarbro of Nashville isn't counting Wilkinson out.

"I don't think the entire Senate Republican Caucus would have been in town raising money for Todd Gardenhire [last] week if they didn't think that he needed a little extra help," Yarbro said.

Still, one Republican strategist projects that Gardenhire, the Senate Republican Caucus and the Tennessee Republican Party will have spent $110,000 on TV alone before all is said and done. That's not counting money going into political mailers and a flood of internet advertising.

And Republican Gov. Bill Haslam, who has had his differences with Gardenhire, recently cut a radio ad for the Chattanooga resident.

While Democrats contend the race is now within the margin of error in polling, a Republican strategist disputed that, saying Gardenhire has moved beyond that.

Southeast Tennessee: Republicans everywhere

In terms of the immediate Chattanooga area, Senate District 10 is about the only contest on anyone's radar in Nashville.

House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, and Rep. Mike Carter, R-Ooltewah, have no opponent. Rep. JoAnne Favors, D-Chattanooga, has no opponent. Nor does Rep. Kevin Brooks, R-Cleveland, and Rep. Ron Travis, R-Dayton.

Most other contests here aren't on anyone's radar.

Rep. Patsy Hazlewood, R-Signal Mountain, does have a Democratic opponent, Steve Gordon, in House District 27. But he appears to be doing little, if anything, and hasn't even raised a dime.

It's the same with Rep. Mark Gravitt, R-East Ridge, who faces Democrat Katie Cowley and independent Patrick Hickey in District 30. Neither Cowley nor Hickey have reported raising money, according to their disclosures with the Tennessee Registry of Election Finance.

And while Rep. Dan Howell, R-Georgetown, faces Democrat Anna Miller Grabowski, she isn't spending anything.

But there is one House race, District 43, that at one point was seen by both parties as a possible GOP pickup. The district, held by Rep. Kevin Dunlap, a Sparta, Tenn., educator, reaches south into Grundy County and includes Warren and White counties.

Republicans would like to pick up the rural seat — it's one of maybe four rural seats held by House Democrats with the party's strength is in major cities, including Chattanooga.

Insiders in both parties said polling at one point showed an extremely tight contest between Dunlap, a social conservative, and Republican challenger Paul Sherrell. But Democrats are feeling better about retaining the seat and think it's moved above the margin of error in polling.

Republicans don't dispute that although they feel Dunlap could be in trouble depending on how large a victory Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump pulls off over Democrat Hillary Clinton in Tennessee. Polls last month showed Trump up by 10-12 points here.

Since then, former Secretary of State Clinton has been embroiled in yet more controversy over her emails while in office, with the FBI now sorting through emails on the computer of a top aide's estranged husband.

In the House District 41 contest between Rep. John Mark Windell, D-Livingston, and GOP challenger Ed Butler, the same pretty much holds true. Windell's polling is said to show him beyond the margin of error in the district which includes upper portions of the Cumberland Plateau. But in a wave election, there could be trouble.

In Knoxville, Republican Rep. Eddie Smith faces a tough race with Democrat Gloria Johnson, the one-time lawmaker he ousted in 2014.

In Middle Tennessee, Democrats are aiming high, hoping to oust Republican House Speaker Beth Harwell of Nashville in a District 56 race with Democrat Chris Moth. House GOP Chairman Glen Casada of Franklin laughed about the contest, saying he has high expectations that Harwell will win.

But Democrats see a potential pickup in Middle Tennessee's District 74 where Rep. Jay Reedy, R-Erin, is in a major battle with Democrat Andy Porch of Waverly.

Republicans believe and Democrats concede that the GOP will likely pick up another Middle Tennessee district, District 85, where Rep. David Shepard, D-Dickson, is stepping down.

Some observers on both sides of the aisle have suggested that the numbers in the House could remain the same with the GOP picking up Shepard's seat and Democrat Johnson beating Smith.

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

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