Polls show 11-point Haslam lead, jobs as top issue

We're part of the Tennessee Newspaper Network, which is running a series of stories this week based upon the data generated by a poll which had a primary purpose of gauging how things stand in the Republican gubernatorial primary between U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp of Chattanooga, Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam and state senate speaker Ron Ramsey of Blountville.

Each candidate put their own spin on things, but the poll, taken last Monday through Wednesday, showed that among 400 likely Republican voters, Haslam had  level of 36 percent support, Wamp was 25 percent and Ramsey was at 20. Each candidate had his own interpretation of the numbers, with Wamp and Ramsey also saying that this race is difficult to poll because voter intensity is so hard to gauge in this environment. They are also saying that given how much money Haslam has spent -- Wamp says it will be $15 million by the time the primary ends -- he has not built any kind of unassailable advantage. Wamp believes Haslam is the quasi-incumbent, given his visibility in advertising, and the old political wisdom says that undecided voters -- about 20 percent, according to the poll -- usually do not break for the incumbent.

Today's story in the series focused on the issues most important to Tennesseans, and by a monumental margin, the economy and jobs came out on top, with 54 percent choosing it. No. 2 was the related issues of government finances, taxes and spending, at 22 percent. The 625 Tennessee likely voters questioned by Mason & Dixon polling put so-called "hot-button" issues like health-care and immigration far down the list, at 8 percent and 6 percent.

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