Much has been said about the low turnout in Tuesday’s Republican congressional primary, especially compared with the 2008 Republican and Democratic primaries.
The combined turnout of those two primaries was 143,254 across the 24-county 1st Congressional District. Tuesday’s Republican vote count was 38,435 – a 73 percent dropoff.
But the more appropriate comparison is the 2008 Republican primary in which 44,429 voted. This year’s GOP vote was about 6,000 below 2008, a far less dramatic decline.
Obviously a much smaller portion of the population voted at all, but this wasn’t a general election – it was officially the Republican Party selecting its nominee for November.
While Mississippi doesn’t have party registration and party primaries are open to anyone, there may have been some voters who, rather than shunning their civic responsibility, made a conscious decision not to vote in the Republican race. They may have considered themselves Democrats or simply wanted to wait to cast their ballot for incumbent Democrat Travis Childers in November.
Had Childers had an opponent on the Democratic side that necessitated a primary, we would have seen a higher turnout.
Additionally, on the same 2008 ballot as the congressional race were presidential primaries in both parties and a Democratic senatorial primary that enticed more voters. “Off-year” federal elections – those in non-presidential years – have always drawn significantly fewer voters, so this year’s count shouldn’t be a big surprise, especially with only one primary.
Nevertheless, it’s clear that voter participation could and should improve in the fall. With state Sen. Alan Nunnelee chosen by primary voters as the Republican nominee to take on Childers and seven other minor-party and independent candidates, the field is now set.
Nunnelee kept his primary campaign on a high plane and out of the gutter of personal attacks, and he has promised to do so for the fall. Childers took some brutal attacks on his personal integrity in 2008, and this year he’s said he’ll fight back if it happens.
Both national parties will be intensely interested in this race since it could go either way, but 1st District voters have shown they’ll reject slash-and-burn political tactics and this campaign should be run without them. The issues and the different perspectives and experiences of Childers and Nunnelee are what this race should revolve around, not juvenile name-calling or untruths and distortions about the other guy.
Keep it a vigorous, spirited debate on the real issues and maybe more voters will engage in the process rather than walk away in disgust.
NEMS Daily Journal