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Polls remain open until 7 p.m. in special election

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Poll worker Bill Chester instructs a voter on the use of an electronic voting machine this morning at the East Side Elementary precinct.
(T-G Photo by John I. Carney) [Order this photo]
Polls remain open until 7 p.m. today at normal precinct locations for the special election to fill the 62nd District state House seat.

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, half of Lincoln County and the Eagleville area of Rutherford County.

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, a race which has attracted attention and participation from state party organizations because of the slim 50-49 margin held by Republicans in the House.

* Cobb plans to attend an election-night party at Bedford Fencing Co., 2423 U.S. 41-A South, according to his campaign manager Ashford Hughes.

* The Marsh campaign will hold its election-night party at its campaign headquarters in the old car dealership building on Lane Parkway.

* Brown said he would be attending church services tonight rather than hosting an election party.

The campaign has attracted involvement and attention from the major parties' state organizations, so much so that decisions on issues like debates were sometimes negotiated by party leaders instead of by the candidates or their local campaign workers. Despite several attempts, there was never a debate with all three candidates participating.

Republicans hope a win would cement their majority in the chamber and give notice that more historically Democratic seats could be endangered when all 99 House members stand for election next year.

State Democrats, meanwhile, have made winning back the House their top objective -- a task that would become all the more difficult if Cobb fails.

Republicans hold a comfortable 19-14 majority in the Senate, so who controls the House will have a major effect on redistricting of legislative and congressional seats following the 2010 census.

Given the high stakes of the special election, both parties have been pouring resources into the race and leading attacks on their opponent's credentials.

Democrats have sought to draw attention to tax troubles for Marsh's company, while Republicans have hammered at labor endorsements for Cobb.

Republicans also have sought to downplay Cobb's endorsement by Tennessee Right to Life. Sen. Jim Tracy of Shelbyville said the endorsement will have no effect on the outcome of the race.

"I don't think it's hurt at all," Tracy said. "The endorsements are only as good as what some people think."

But Tracy quickly added that Cobb has been endorsed by the Service Employees International Union, "which is affiliated with ACORN," a community group under fire over a set of videotapes made by conservative activists that show employees offering advice about how to establish a brothel with underage prostitutes.

Republican mailers have also sought to tie Cobb to Democratic President Barack Obama, who lost Bedford and Lincoln counties by more than a 2-1 margin last year.

Bedford County Mayor Eugene Ray said he'd prefer if national issues were left out of the local contest. "It's a close race, and they're both good people," Ray said outside a Cobb rally last week.

James Foster, who works at the Tyson Foods plant in Shelbyville, was more dismissive of attempts to link Cobb to Obama or ACORN. "It just don't matter," said Foster, 55. "Ty's a good man and he's fighting for the right things."

Cobb said he supports expanding access to the public pre-kindergarten program championed by Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen. "Children that get that opportunity will excel fast," he said.

Cobb also supports raising the minimum wage and expanding the state's green energy sector as a means for job creation.

Bredesen, who carried the district in his 2006 re-election, emphasized Cobb's conservative credentials at the recent rally in Shelbyville. "He's a conservative Democrat, just as I consider myself," he said.

Marsh took out a newspaper ad to defend himself against the Democratic allegations that his lack of business acumen caused the tax problems for his company.

"With the multitude of taxes that exist, the complexity of the tax laws, and numerous regulations, it is not uncommon that some tax bills may be overlooked," he said. "Anytime that has occurred we resolve the issue to the best of our ability."

Marsh said at a recent candidate forum that he would fight in the legislature for less regulation and lower taxes.

"The government has stepped way past their bounds," he said. "In the trucking business we see regulation like you would not believe."

He also said illegal immigration is to blame for increased health insurance costs.

"Illegal immigration has caused a lot of that because they're in here using all of our services," he said. "We've got to get them out and away from us and get our people taken care of."

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