NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP, abc24.com) - Tennessee voters were weighing Republican presidential candidates up until the last minute Tuesday as they headed to the polls to vote in the party's presidential primary.
While early voting numbers were down sharply from the last presidential primary in 2008, the major GOP candidates had ramped up their attention to Tennessee in the last week with campaign stops and a barrage of television ads to try to sway those undecided voters.
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has drawn the endorsement of several top Republicans in the state, including Gov. Bill Haslam and U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander. Romney appeared in Knoxville on Sunday.
Gail Piernoy, a 72-year-old retired office manager in Nashville, said she voted for Romney because of his experience in the private sector and because he could mount a challenge to President Barack Obama.
"I think Romney has the business experience and that's what we need with this economy," she said.
David Morgan, a 55-year-old Nashville resident who works in sales, said the economy, not social issues, is what he considers the top issue in this election year. He voted for Romney because he thinks he has the best chance at beating Obama.
"The whole economy is down," he said. "Myself, I don't make as much as I used to."
Morgan has a son-in-law who serves in the military, and said he felt it was time to bring the troops home and reduce the amount of foreign aid to other countries.
"We dish out way too much money to foreign countries," he said. "We need it here."
In recent days, former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich have also made appearances in the state.
Robert Shoemake and his wife, Vivian, both voted for Gingrich. He said he feels Gingrich's political experience would help break through the gridlock in Congress along party lines.
"We aren't just electing a new president, but we also have to get control of both houses of Congress," Shoemake said.
Shoemake, of Nashville, said he sold his heating and air conditioning business about two years ago because of the downturn in the economy and is worried about the nation's high debt.
"The most important issue is debt," he said. "We can create jobs easier than bring the debt down."
Social and religious issues were driving some to pick Santorum.
Kristy Tarrant, a 55-year-old executive assistant in Memphis, said Santorum's family values and how he dealt with the death of his newborn son led her to choose him in the primary.
"The protection of families in America is the issue that is important to me," Tarrant said. "I am impressed by the way he honored his child that he lost. I experienced a similar situation with a grandchild, and it resonated with me."
Ray Connors, a 43-year-old security guard in Memphis, said while no particular issues drove his vote, he felt Santorum was more down-to-earth than the current front-runner.
"Mitt Romney is one of the one-percenters and Santorum seems like one of us," Connors said.
Tennessee has 55 delegates up for grabs, third most among the 10 Super Tuesday states.