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Senate, Governor Races Lead in Tennessee Election


With open seats for governor and U.S. senator, Tennessee Democrats believe they have their best chance in years to gain ground in Tuesday's general election.

The votes of women could be key.

Republican U.S. Rep Marsha Blackburn hopes to foil the Democrats' efforts and become the first female U.S. senator in Tennessee history. But Democratic former Gov. Phil Bredesen is hoping female voters turn the tide in his favor.

Polling has shown women to be slow to embrace Blackburn, a stark gender divide during a time that's been described as the year of the female voter. Polls range from showing the race is still a tossup to Blackburn having a lead.

The seat came open when Republican incumbent U.S. Sen. Bob Corker announced his retirement, with the 51-49 Republican majority hanging in balance. The competitiveness over the open seat has led to campaign spending records in Tennessee. A whopping $85 million has already been spent from the candidates and outside groups, by the closing days of the campaign.

The race became so high-profile that even pop superstar Taylor Swift, who got her career start in Nashville, broke her political silence by going on Instagram to endorse Bredesen and encourage people to vote.

Meanwhile, Republican businessman Bill Lee and former Nashville Mayor Karl Dean are vying to succeed term-limited Republican Gov. Bill Haslam.

Lee has enjoyed a comfortable lead in the polls for most of the campaign. However, Dean has amped up his criticism of Lee in the campaign's final days, calling the Republican candidate "extreme" and demanding more scrutiny of Lee's business contracting with state and local governments.

Previously both candidates had praised each other for delivering mostly positive messages during the campaign.

They differ chiefly on health care, with Dean in favor of expanding Tennessee's Medicaid eligibility and Lee opposing the idea.

Dean argues that Tennessee is leaving money on the table by choosing not to take the option offered under the Affordable Care Act.

Under the Affordable Care Act, the U.S. government pays at least 90 percent of the cost of expanding Medicaid while states pick up the rest. Despite the savings promoted by supporters, Tennessee lawmakers have long refused to consider Medicaid — known in Tennessee as TennCare — even with Republican Gov. Bill Haslam advocating for the change.

Lee says expanding access to health care and lowering medical costs could take up to 20 years but it shouldn't involve relying on federal funding.

With two high-profile races, voting has spiked in early and absentee ballots. As of Friday, nearly 1.38 million Tennesseans had already voted in the midterm election.

Meanwhile, some advocacy groups claim they've also seen multiple legal violations by election officials. Most recently, a judge ordered the Shelby County Election Commission to allow people with incomplete voter registration applications to fix any problems and vote on Election Day. But the Court of Appeals in Tennessee then blocked most of the injunction, ruling that those who fix incomplete applications on Election Day will have to cast provisional ballots.

In that same county, which has the state's largest black population, there were complaints that changing the font on the voting machines resulted in Dean's name appearing later on the ballot.

Six of Tennessee's nine U.S. House races include incumbents who are expected to hold on to their seats, barring a major upset. Republicans currently hold seven of the state's congressional seats. Three GOP-held seats are open.

Furthermore, all 99 seats in the state House and 18 of the 33 state Senate seats are being contested. Republicans are expected to maintain supermajorities in the General Assembly.

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