Excerpt from a Politico piece on why Tennessee seems likely to play a pivotal role in the 2016 Republican presidential primary after being widely ignored in past presidential campaigns:
It’s not quite Iowa, but Tennessee — a state long ignored until much later in the cycle, and then often just turned to for donations — is now one of the biggest hubs for GOP political activity in the country.
Tennessee has 58 delegates up for grabs on March 1, a day when much of the South will vote in the so-called SEC primary. That’s the third-biggest slate of delegates available that day, following Texas and Georgia; but it’s more delegates than are available in any of the first four states.
And Tennessee has an added advantage over its Southern neighbors: its media markets. An ad buy in Knoxville, in the eastern part of the state, can also hit corners of Virginia, North Carolina and Kentucky.
Getting television coverage in Chattanooga, in the southeastern corner, plays in Georgia and Alabama, while a Memphis presence also gives a candidate audiences in Arkansas, Mississippi and Missouri. These Tennessee cities are smaller than, say, Atlanta —and in the cases of Knoxville and Memphis, smaller than a number of other midsize Southern cities — generally meaning that it costs less to buy a spot, and with the bleed-over into other states, it’s more cost-effective.
“We touch so many states, you get a big bang for your buck when you advertise,” said Tennessee GOP Chairman Ryan Haynes. “We’re a state uniquely positioned for a candidate to campaign in.”
…The extensive airtime candidates receive here, coupled with a primary calendar change, a solid donor pool and the ideological diversity of the GOP in Tennessee explain why both deeply conservative candidates like Cruz, and politicians like Rubio who appeal to more mainstream Republicans, see a path, and are investing significant time and effort into a state that in previously cycles was largely ignored.
The three candidates with the most momentum in the state now are Cruz, Rubio and Trump, said Julie Hannah Taleghani, chair of the Williamson County GOP, an influential, wealthy and conservative county right outside of Nashville, with Cruz and Trump outpacing Rubio.