A total of 2,638 early and absentee votes were cast in Bedford County for the special election to fill the 62nd District state House seat, according to Adminstrator of Elections Summer Leverette. Early voting ended on Thursday.
Election Day will be Tuesday. Election day polls will be open from 9 a.m. until 7 p.m. Tuesday at all normal precinct locations.
The seat became vacant when Democratic incumbent Curt Cobb resigned June 30 to accept a position as Bedford County Clerk and Master. The district includes all of Bedford County, a large portion of Lincoln County and the Eagleville area of Rutherford County.
Lincoln County reported 1,470 early votes, according to Beth Bryan of the Lincoln County election office staff. An employee at the Rutherford County election office reported only 64 early votes.
Democratic nominee Ty Cobb, Republican nominee Pat Marsh, and Chris Brown, who is listed on the ballot as an independent but who is endorsed by the Constitution Party, are seeking the seat, which has attracted attention and participation from state party organizations because of the slim 50-49 margin held by Republicans in the House.
The 2,638 early and absentee votes in Bedford County outnumbers the entire early plus election day vote for the party primaries held in August. That total was 1,950, or about 8 1/2 percent of registered voters.
Brown, and Kelly Fernandez of his campaign, expressed frustration Friday at the failure of the candidates to agree to a proposed Saturday night debate.
"How hard can it be to set this debate up?" asked Fernandez.
Cobb missed two previous candidate forums attended by Marsh and Brown, and now it is Marsh's campaign which is refusing to participate.
Marsh's campaign refused to participate in the Saturday night debate, and Times-Gazette editor Kent Flanagan, who had been set to moderate the debate, said he would only participate if all three candidates were present. The Marsh campaign said in a letter to the Cobb campaign that its "parameters ... were not met" and that no reasonable compromises were offered.
Marsh's campaign offered a counter-proposal of an election eve debate on Monday night, but Brown has a worker's compensation-related doctor's appointment which would prevent him from attending and which he and Fernandez said it could take weeks to reschedule.
Fernandez, whose family comes from the Eagleville area, also noted the low voter participation in Rutherford County and said the Eagleville portion of the district had been unfairly ignored.
"It's a shame that they've been left out of the whole process," said Fernandez.
He and Brown criticized the two-party system and said conservatives who resist voting for a third party candidate because they will split the Republican vote are missing what he said was the drift towards what Fernandez called "big-government Republicans" in charge of the national GOP. He also said that both parties have left "God ... out of the equation.
"We've got two Democrats running right now," said Fernandez.
The Marsh campaign issued a news release on Friday stating that Marsh has the endorsement of former presidential candidate and former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee.
"Pat is a real Conservative," said Huckabee in the news release. "Pat Marsh is 100 percent pro-life and believes marriage should only be between a man and a woman. As a former governor, I know we need people of good conservative principles -- like Pat Marsh, serving to protect our values in the state legislature. Plus Pat Marsh has the business experience we need. He will fight to keep taxes low, stop the big spenders, and recruit good paying jobs to the area."
"I am honored to have the support of former Governor Mike Huckabee," said Marsh. "I believe Governor Huckabee recognizes my commitment to the rights of the unborn and my experience creating jobs in the district."
Tennessee Democratic Party chairman Chip Forrester issued a news release responding to the endorsement.
"Mike Huckabee might be surprised to know that Pat Marsh voted either for Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton in the presidential primary last year, not for him," said Forrester in the news release. "And Mr. Huckabee probably should have asked more questions of Mr. Marsh before endorsing him, given the Republican presidential candidate's hard-line stance on certain moral issues.
"It would have been easier for Pat Marsh to clear up where he stands on the issues by debating Ty Cobb on Saturday. Instead, Mr. Marsh chose to dodge that debate and ask for an endorsement from someone who doesn't even live in Tennessee. Mr. Marsh's campaign is obviously falling apart.
"I'm afraid Mr. Marsh's credibility is in need of some immediate repair after all the bad advice he has taken lately from the clueless Republican leadership in Nashville," Forrester added.
Tennessee Democratic Party announced Thursday that all of the announced Democratic gubernatorial candidates -- Ward Cammack, State Sen. Roy Herron, State Sen. Jim Kyle, Kim McMillan, and Mike McWherter -- had agreed to work on behalf of the Cobb campaign this weekend. Party spokesman Keith Talley said the candidates had committed to actually be in the district campaigning.