PORTLAND – Bill Roche is a registered Democrat and plans on voting in the primary Tuesday.

Exactly who will get his vote is a work in progress.

“The good news is I think there are four pretty good people running,” said Roche.

And he’s leaning toward two of the four candidates: either Elizabeth Mitchell or Steven Rowe. He’s watched televised debates and read about the race and the candidates in the newspaper.

Sitting on Congress Street outside Otto’s Pizza, Roche reflected that, normally, he’s made up his mind this close to a primary. In this case, he’s having difficulty picking between those two candidates. Sometimes, he said, you’ve got to make a gut decision.

“I’m waiting for my gut,” said Roche.

He’s not alone.

According to a Pan Atlantic SMS Group Omnibus Poll released last week, 61.7 percent of Democrats queried said they had not yet chosen a candidate, while 47 percent of Republicans who were polled said they were in the same boat.

The poll was a random sample of 600 likely Maine voters, 300 Democrats and 300 Republicans, interviewed by telephone from May 21 to May 29, and had a margin of error of plus or minus 5.7 percentage points at the 95 percent confidence level.

Experts saw different reasons for the apparent electorate indecision.

“I think that whatever is happening hasn’t captured people’s minds. None of the candidates have been yelling and screaming and so on. Most of them are pretty reasonable people,” said Marvin Druker, a political scientist based at the University of Southern Maine’s Lewiston-Auburn campus. “I think they’re not capturing people’s attention.”

No candidate is announcing vastly unconventional plans or making particularly wild claims, such as declaring the state bankrupt, said Druker.

Beyond that, said Druker, most people aren’t generally captured by primaries anyhow.

“Those who are most likely to vote are people who do pay attention — the activists, people who participate, people who read the newspapers, pay attention to the debates,” said Druker. “The next level is those who are casually interested. They are probably undecided.”

Lee Andrews of Portland said she plans to vote in the Democratic primary, too. She hasn’t done enough research on the candidates, she said, but she is leaning toward Rowe. All in all, she said, no one candidate has really enthralled her.

“I feel like there’s a lot of candidates,” she said. “I don’t feel any one campaign is stronger.”

That vast field of candidates — four on the Democratic side, seven for the Republicans — is why Todd Colpitts of Cape Elizabeth is not surprised that there are so many undecided voters.

“There’s a ton of candidates,” said Colpitts, during a morning run to the town’s Recycling Center “If it was a horse race, it’d be a big pack.”

Colpitts, too, is undecided. He’s a registered Republican, and his concerns center on high taxes that don’t provide much in the way of services. He’s looking for the most conservative candidate, he said, and he is leaning toward either Paul LePage or Bill Beardsley.

At this point, he said, his decision is almost down to a coin flip.

Colby College political scientist Sandy Maisel said the broad field is definitely a factor in voter uncertainty and may also affect overall turnout Tuesday.

“There’s so many candidates, people got confused and never focused on the election,” said Maisel. “I think it matters a huge amount — most of them won’t turn out to vote.”

Turnout in primaries isn’t traditionally high. In 2002, the last time there was an open governor’s race, a total of 152,131 people voted. In 2006, when Gov. John Baldacci was up for re-election, 124,480 Mainers voted in the primaries.

In some cases, undecided voters haven’t yet made a choice because they believe there’s a lot riding on that choice. That’s the case with Alan Viernes of Westbrook.

Viernes owns the Greater Portland School of Jukado, a martial arts school in Westbrook’s Dana Warp Mill.

He’s an unenrolled voter, but he plans to register with a party and vote Tuesday.

“I want to vote for the best candidate, whether they’re Republican (or) Democrat,” he said.

As a small-business owner, Viernes is looking for a candidate who will support people like him, he said. He’s reading up on the candidates, trying to identify someone who has a clear economic plan.

“I really want to find that right candidate to get us out of this mess,” he said. “If we do not pick the right candidate now, it will only put us deeper into the mess we’re in.” 

Staff Writer Matt Wickenheiser can be contacted at 791-6316 or at:

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