- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 6, 2010

Voter turnout in Tuesday’s primaries in three battleground states was on par or slightly down compared with other midterm election years, despite a strong push by conservative activists to throw out established Republicans they say aren’t toeing the party line.

Several Republican incumbents faced unusually crowed primary fields in Indiana, Ohio and North Carolina. But with lighter than expected voter turnout and “tea party”-aligned voters spreading their votes among several candidates, incumbents were able to limp to victory.

In Ohio, 22.3 percent of voters cast ballots, a decline of about 2 percent compared with 2006 - the most recent nonpresidential election year primary.

North Carolina’s deputy director of the State Board of Elections said Wednesday’s turnout was slightly less than 15 percent, with typical midterm primaries pulling in between 13 percent and 20 percent.

Indiana’s voter turnout figures weren’t available Wednesday, although absentee ballot turnout and exit polling suggest that overall voter interest “wasn’t overwhelming,” said Hoosier political analyst Brian Vargus.

“It probably was a little better than 2006, but it was not massive,” said Mr. Vargus, a political science professor at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.

Voter interest in Indiana, Ohio and North Carolina generally was tempered by a lack of charismatic issues and candidates, analysts say.

Ohio has no gubernatorial race this year, and Republican Senate candidate Rob Portman ran unopposed, a scenario that doesn’t push votes to the polls.

And in North Carolina, a void of headline-grabbing, statewide ballot initiatives and a ballot of Senate candidates with poor name recognition was a recipe for electorate apathy.

“Voters weren’t terribly engaged” in North Carolina, said Jennifer Duffy, who covers Senate races for the Cook Political Report.

The “throw the bums out” push by the conservative wing of the Republican electorate did put a scare in Republican incumbents and party leaders, political experts say. But whether the movement resonates with a more diverse pool of voters during general elections in November is highly uncertain.

“It was a very, very bizarre primary,” Mr. Vargus said of Indiana’s races. “I talked with the Republican chairman last night face to face and he basically admitted that there was sort of a lack of discipline” in the party.

Republican registered voters’ enthusiasm about voting in this year’s midterm elections has declined significantly in recent weeks, according to results of a Gallup poll released Wednesday. As a result, Republicans’ advantage over Democrats on this measure has shrunk from 19 points in early April to 10 points in the latest weekly aggregate.

Republicans’ current 10-point lead is the smallest Gallup has measured since it began tracking 2010 election attitudes in March.

But another Gallup poll from last week also shows that younger voters remain less enthusiastic about voting in this year’s midterm elections than those who are older, underscoring the challenge facing the Democratic Party in its efforts to re-energize these voters, who helped Barack Obama win the presidency in 2008.

As to whether tea party supporters and other disengaged conservatives would support third-party candidates or remain home on Election Day in November, Ms. Duffy expects most will support the GOP candidate.

“When they look at the reality, is having a Republican that they don’t agree with 100 percent better than having a Democrat they’ll never agree with?” she said.

• Sean Lengell can be reached at slengell@washingtontimes.com.

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