Cook On Concord: Voters gave little notice to the invisible primary
What if they held an election and nobody voted? This is almost what happened Sept. 12 in the state primary. Secretary of State William Gardner estimated that turnout was about 12 percent of eligible voters, a record low. Why was turnout so abysmal? Common assumptions are that with no contests for governor, both incumbent Democrat John Lynch and Republican candidate James Coburn having no primary opposition, no U.S. Senate seat up for election in 2006 and the scant number of contested races, voters were not motivated to go to the polls. Indeed, in Ward 1 in Manchester where I vote in the Republican primary, the only contests on the ballot were for U.S. Representative, some unknown having filed against incumbent Jeb Bradley, and delegate to the state Republican convention, neither of which was a major motivating factor. This was the situation in many election districts around the state. When there are light turnouts results depend greatly on the motivation of voters for a candidate. If a candidate can get all of his or her voters out, he or she can win a victory that might not occur if every voter voted. The results thus defy pundits, polls and conventional wisdom. A good example of that in this primary was the race in the Democratic primary for the 1st Congressional District nomination. The most well known of the candidates was attorney and New Hampshire House Minority Leader Jim Craig. Craig was endorsed by the National Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, various newspapers, and he raised substantial funds. Notwithstanding that effort, he was defeated by Carol Shea-Porter, a political activist from the Seacoast. Shea-Porter had a distinct and clear message: she was running against the war in Iraq. Craig’s message was a little more diffuse — claiming to be the most electable, loyal Democrat with superior office-holding and other experience. Shea-Porter got her voters to the polls. Craig’s strength was presumed to come from a good turnout of regular Democrats, especially in the Manchester area. While Craig won in Manchester, his victory there could not overcome Shea-Porter’s voters, who gave her a 54 percent total to Craig’s 35. In winning, Shea-Porter not only won her Seacoast constituency and home county of Strafford, she also won such places as Londonderry, Derry, Merrimack, Candia, and came close in other towns surrounding Manchester, with her message and grassroots efforts. Congressman Bradley won his primary easily and will face Shea-Porter in November. Conventional wisdom again gives Shea-Porter no chance, given her relative inability to raise money and Bradley’s incumbency. However, while Bradley should win, he also should pay attention to this insurgent.