- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 6, 2002

In an election where voter turnout was key to control of the House and Senate, several areas of the country reported high turnout yesterday, a trend both parties said was working in their favor.

Still, nationwide voter turnout appeared to be about 35 percent the same as the last midterm election in 1998 or perhaps a percentage point higher, based on a preliminary review, said Curtis Gans, director of the Committee for the Study of the American Electorate.

"Voter turnout is strong in the right places," said Jim Dyke, spokesman for the Republican National Committee.

He cited the Senate race in Missouri between Democratic Sen. Jean Carnahan and her Republican challenger, former Rep. Jim Talent. Mr. Dyke said voter turnout in Republican-rich southern Missouri was high, benefiting Mr. Talent.

And he said 5,700 Republican volunteers in all Minnesota precincts boosted the turnout there for Republican Senate candidate Norm Coleman. The state's Senate race became nationally known after former Vice President Walter F. Mondale stepped in last week to fill the vacancy left by the death of Democratic Sen. Paul Wellstone.

Democrats also reported voter turnout working in their favor.

"Voter turnout is much higher than expected," said Sen. Patty Murray, Washington Democrat and head of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

She said reports from across the nation were initially anecdotal, and although they did not have definite numbers, some areas were reporting turnout as high as in a presidential election year.

Both parties conducted massive get-out-the-vote efforts, aided in some states by dramatic or tight races.

Mr. Gans said states such as Florida, Tennessee, Louisiana and New Hampshire were "way up" in terms of turnout, while states such as Indiana, New York and Ohio were down.

Republican National Committee spokeswoman Mindy Tucker said the "big turnout story of the evening" for Republicans was Georgia, where the Republicans picked up a Senate seat and the governor's seat.

"We have a great turnout program there," she said.

She also said big voter turnout "absolutely" played a role in Texas, where Republican state Attorney General John Cornyn beat former Democratic Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk.

Minnesota also reported unusually high turnout.

"It's 1998 all over again," said Patty O'Connor, elections director for Blue Earth County, Minn., recalling the "huge" voter turnout that put Jesse Ventura into the governor's office that year.

She said voting was light yesterday morning because it was snowing, but picked up quickly, and estimated 35 percent to 40 percent of eligible voters had cast ballots by midafternoon, when voting typically drags. She said it would likely reach 70 percent, a level not usually seen in an off-year election.

Florida Secretary of State Jim Smith estimated voter turnout there would reach 58 percent to 62 percent, higher than in other midterm elections. Republican Gov. Jeb Bush, the president's brother, was re-elected over Democratic challenger Bill McBride.

At least 25 counties in Florida last night reported turnout numbers of 56 percent to 63 percent, which is high for a midterm election. Jefferson County reported 70 percent turnout. The overall average turnout for Florida was not available, but was expected to be in the high 50s to low 60s.

Mr. Bush won the votes of most Hispanics, but lost the votes of most blacks, according to an exit poll by Fox News channel.

The Republican governor won 56 percent of the Hispanic vote, while Mr. McBride won 44 percent. Despite losing the election, Mr. McBride won 91 percent of the black vote, compared with 5 percent for Mr. Bush.

In Maryland most counties reported turnout in the strong 50-to-60 percent range, which is comparable to 1998 levels. Baltimore County reported 66 percent voter turnout, up from 61 percent in 1998. A handful of key jurisdictions, including Baltimore City, and Prince George's and Montgomery counties, had not yet reported late last night.

Donna Royson, deputy director of the South Carolina Election Commission, said they would not have the official South Carolina voter turnout results for several days.

She said, based on reports coming in from counties in the state, the turnout was "moderate to heavy."

Other areas of the country reported low or moderate turnout.

Bill Sammon contributed to this article.

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