Gardner predicts near record GOP turnout


Bill Gardner predicts near record Republican turnout on Tuesday


(CONCORD) New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner is expecting 152,000 New Hampshire voters to pick up a Republican ballot in next Tuesday’s primary, while 70,000 will choose Democratic nominees. Gardner is projecting 24% turnout based on the state’s 919,000 currently registered voters, but expects 4,000 to 5,000 new voters to register for the first time at the polls.

Gardner says absentee ballot requests are running pretty close to 2002, when highly contested races for Governor and the U.S. Senate drove a record 155,000 Republican voters to the polls. In the 2008 September primary, just under 72,000 voters showed up for the GOP primary.

Gardner says he expects around 80% of the state’s undeclared voters to turn to the Republican ticket on Tuesday, simply because there is so much more going on in the Republican primaries. A hotly contested U.S. Senate race has flooded New Hampshire airwaves, phones, and mailboxes, along with wide open fields for Governor and in both Congressional Districts. By contrast, Democrat Paul Hodes in uncontested for his party’s Senate nomination, Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter had no competition in her primary, and Governor John Lynch faces two underfunded opponents.

“Republicans tend to vote more in primaries because Republicans have generally had more primary contests,” Gardner explains.

Gardner expects Democratic turnout to be slightly higher in the Second Congressional District, where Katrina Swett is battling Ann McLane Kuster. Gardner expects Republican turnout to peak in the First District, where four candidates have had the resources to air television commercials.

Democrats currently hold a narrow edge in party registration over Republicans, with both major parties at just under 29%, but 42% of voters are undeclared. Under state law, these voters can sign up with either party on Tuesday, and either stay on the party rolls after the vote or switch back to undeclared. Gardner says between a quarter and a third of undeclared voters stay with the party they join after the election. Since he predicts most undeclared voters will choose to vote in the Republican primary, he expects the GOP to retake the registration advantage next week.

New Hampshire Primary Turnout 2000-2010 (projected)

But Gardner says that September turnout doesn’t predict November’s General Election results.

“You have to remember that Democrats have never outvoted Republicans in a September primary,” Gardner says, based on his review of election returns going back to 1910.

Even in the Democratic landslides in 2006 and 2008, Republican turnout was higher in the primary. He says Democrats have outvoted Republicans in two Presidential Primaries, 1984 and 2004. Republican Presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush faced no major opposition to drive voters to the polls, while Democratic had contested primaries, with each campaign turning out voters.

Prior to the record turnout in 2002, the most voters who ever cast Republican ballots was in 1992, when the GOP had close races for Governor, Senate, and both Congressional seats. That year also set the record for Democratic turnout, with Arnie Arnesen getting the Democratic nod for Governor over Norm D’Amours and Ned Helms, with 91,000 Democratic votes cast.

Gardner bases his turnout projections in part on absentee ballot requests, and he’s compared this year’s requests to past years in several dozen towns. He says total requests are edging very close to 2002, but that heightened interest from Tea Party activists could boost total turnout even higher than he predicts.