By Sam Stockard, Gannett
MURFREESBORO -- If Tennessee voters
had concerns about electing a Mormon to the White House for the first
time in American history, they've apparently gotten over it in the past
presidential candidate Mitt Romney leads President Barack Obama in
Tennessee by a margin of 59 percent to 34 percent, according to a poll
released Saturday by Middle Tennessee State University. The poll found
that 74 percent of white evangelical Christians surveyed support Romney.
once-strained relationship between Gov. Romney and religious
Tennesseans seems to have improved markedly since the spring's primary
election," said Ken Blake, director of the MTSU Poll.
taken just before the March primary, found church-going Republicans
favored former Sen. Rick Santorum nearly 6-to-1 over Romney, while the
split was balanced for Tennessee Republicans who attended church less
often, Blake said.
Overall, Santorum won 37 percent of the GOP primary vote to Romney's 28 percent and Newt Gingrich's 24 percent.
Reineke, associate director of the poll, noted several things that have
happened in Romney's favor. They included a meeting with the Rev. Billy
Graham and a USA Today column by Franklin Graham saying "it's OK for an
evangelical to vote for a Mormon."
Ultimately, though, voters who
identified themselves as evangelical Christians may be driven "more by
opposition to Obama than direct support for Romney," Reineke said.
is also important to note that it is far from uncommon for partisans
who didn't vote for the winner in their primary to come home to the
party, almost regardless of the candidate selected, in these highly
Voters leaving the Rutherford County Election
Commission Office after casting early votes Friday weren't surprised
that Romney is dominating the white evangelical Christian vote.
For the most part, those leaving the polls said Romney's Mormonism did not affect their votes.
believe the Christians feel Romney is going to be a better leader for
them as to what their values are," said Linda Porter, a retired
Murfreesboro resident who voted with her husband, Ron Porter, a retired
People have put concerns about Romney's religion
behind them, she said, "because they're looking at the person and the
running mate he's put on the ticket. They feel he has a different feel
Romney chose Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan, a Catholic, as his running mate.
evangelical Christians make up 61 percent of the state's likely voters,
and that segment supported the Republican candidate in the 2004 and
2008 elections. The only notable division among that demographic was a
split between white male evangelicals, 79 percent of whom are
pro-Romney, and white female evangelicals, 63 percent of whom back the
former Massachusetts governor.
Even among white Tennessee voters
who don't consider themselves evangelicals, Romney garnered 50 percent
of the support here to Obama's 38 percent, with 11 percent undecided.
President Obama's base of support lies with black Tennesseans, with 91
percent of them favoring him but accounting for only 12 percent of
Political independents in Tennessee favor Romney by
68 percent compared to 22 percent for Obama. People with strong party
affiliations stayed committed, as well, with 89 percent of
self-described Democrats sticking with Obama and 95 percent of
Republicans favoring Romney.
Democrats made up 28 percent of the
survey, compared to Republicans at 30 percent and those calling
themselves independents at 32 percent.
Judy Whitehill, chairman of
the Rutherford County Democratic Party, said the survey reflects what
happened four years ago in Tennessee, which explains why neither Romney
nor Obama is campaigning here. She remains hopeful for local and
"I hope people are looking at what affects
their pocketbook the most and who is going to work across the aisle" on
economic and education issues, she said.
Whitehill said she
believes Democratic state Sen. Eric Stewart is even with or ahead of
Republican U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais in the wake of revelations that
DesJarlais had a sexual relationship with a patient 12 years ago while
he was still married and then urged the woman to get an abortion.
DesJarlais responded that the woman was not pregnant and didn't get an
abortion, though he never denied the relationship, which is an ethical
violation for physicians.
In another key election, respondents
favored Republican Sen. Bob Corker by 59 percent to 21 percent for
Democratic candidate Mark Clayton, who was disavowed by the state party
because of his stance on gay rights. Twelve percent were undecided.
poll surveyed 650 randomly selected registered voters by telephone Oct.
16-21. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percent and was
conducted by Issues & Answers Network, Inc., rather than using MTSU
students as was done previously.