June 14, 2012

Our View: Low primary turnout sends a clear message

The start of this Senate race has not generated much interest from the majority of Maine voters.

The big U.S. Senate primary election is over and the majority has spoken. Not those among the 11 percent of Maine Democrats or the 13 percent of Maine Republicans who voted to have state Sen. Cynthia Dill and Secretary of State Charlie Summers lead their tickets in November.

click image to enlarge

There were more election officials than voters at the American Legion Hall during the state primary election on Tuesday in Waterville.

File photo/David Leaming

No, the vast majority of Mainers stayed home Tuesday, speaking in a clear voice about what they thought of the choices provided by Maine's political parties in 2012.

It didn't take many votes to win these things. Dill received about 23,000 votes, roughly equal to the population of South Portland.

In his race, Summers received about 20,000, about the population of Brunswick. It was as if these two Cumberland County towns picked the winners and Maine's other 496 municipalities just watched.

If these were ordinary primaries, in which entrenched incumbents faced long-shot challengers, we would be less surprised by the low turnout.

But this is a race for an open seat in the U.S. Senate, the one place in government where Maine is just as powerful as New York or California when setting the national agenda. It's been 16 years since we had this opportunity and you would think that might generate a little more enthusiasm.

But this primary was relegated from main attraction to side show by the presence of independent candidate Angus King, whose name did not appear on any ballot. King enters the race better known, better financed and better liked than any of his rivals, which include three other independents.

That doesn't mean that he is the best person for the job, but it does mean that his opponents are going to have to do a better job speaking to voters and engaging them than they did during this primary season.

King seized the initiative Wednesday by challenging his opponents to eliminate the influence of expenditures by outside groups. It was a smart political move that put the other candidates in the position of defunding themselves or defending the use of shadowy out-of-state money.

But it's a deal they should consider, especially if they could bargain for a series of public forums with King, where they could explore their personal and policy differences in detail.

The November election, with the president and same-sex marriage on the ballot, will not have such light turnout and all the candidates can work now to make sure that the people who vote then will really understand the choices before them.

 

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