Tennessee a Major Battleground in Senate Race

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A tight race for U.S. senate majority leader Bill Frist's seat may be responsible for a brisk turnout at the early voting polls in Knox County. Early voting kicked-off Tuesday and could potentially sway the senate's balance of power.

In our campaign 2006 report, Volunteer TV's Gary Loe looks at this pivotal statewide race with national leadership implications.

Voters we talked with who decided not to wait until the November 7th election day to cast their ballots were drawn to the polls by Tennessee's U.S. senate race. Political analysts say the senate's party majority may come down to races in Missouri, New Jersey, Tennessee and Virginia. J.P. Dessel of west Knox County was among the first 750 early voters at Downtown West to cast his ballot.

"If you don't vote, you can't complain. So, I vote, then I complain vigorously," Dessel said.

Dessel is especially concerned about Tennessee's education plight and how it may hurt his daughter's development.

"I haven't heard anything really substantive from Tennessee politicians on education, and I think they're disgraceful in that regard," Dessel said.

Dessel's vote may help determine which party controls the U.S. senate. Election polls show Democratic nominee Harold Ford, Jr. and Republican nominee Bob Corker running even.

"In a race this tight, every vote, every region is critical to these two candidates." Alan Lowe from the Howard Baker Center said.

The executive director of UT's Howard Baker Center for public policy says national issues like Iraq, scandals, and terrorism are affecting this senate race.

"I think right now if you looked at East Tennessee, it's still pretty much a G.O.P. region, but I think that is subject to change, as are the other regions in the state," Lowe said.

Knox County party leaders value the importance of getting out the early vote.

"What we saw in the county elections in August is that 54 percent of the total vote in August came from early votes," said Brian Hornback from the Knox County Republican Party.

"A lot of these things are decided in the early voting, that election day is, if it's tight, obviously goes down to the last voter in the last hour," said Jim Gray from the Knox County Democratic Party.

Meantime, this voter's done his civic duty early.

"We'll see what happens this election, where the stakes are even a little higher," Dessel said.

A total of 33 of the 100 U.S. senate seats are up for election this year. Of those, 15 are held by Republicans, 18 held by Democrats. Republicans now hold a 10 seat majority in the senate.