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Wednesday, July 14, 2010 - 10:20am

Will Voters Show Up For The Primary?

Georgians head to the polls next Tuesday to select Republican and Democratic nominees for Governor and other statewide and local races. To get a sense of what’s motivating voters, Rickey Bevington checked in with some newspapers around the state.

Robert Williams owns the Blackshear Times and four other papers in rural Georgia. He says this election year, like every other, voters there want jobs:

“We’ve had a forum that included all seven candidates running for our county commission and the number one issue was economic development and jobs. The second issue was how to do it with no money."

Another typical complaint, Williams says, is that voters in south Georgia don’t feel connected to most candidates who seem focused on metro Atlanta. His neighbors identify more closely with Florida. That’s not new, and no candidate is likely to solve the Atlanta versus Georgia mental divide. But Williams says for this election there is one change.

“My home county, Pierce County with Blackshear 10 or 15 years ago was 80 to 90% Democrat. Today it’s 80 to 90% Republican. We have no Democratic candidates now. All of them are Republican. I don’t think anybody changed, I think the labels changed.”

And a new label like that of the Tea Party may weigh heavily with the region’s majority Republicans – both in getting them out to vote, and to vote for conservative candidates. Williams says Sarah Palin’s recent endorsement of gubernatorial candidate Karen Handel may energize rural Republicans. It’s a different level of energy in Albany says Jim Hendricks with the Albany Herald.

“I don’t know how much the average voter is really interested in this election."

Hendricks says in southwest Georgia, there is no clear signal from the electorate. The Second Congressional district is evenly split among Democrats and Republicans. When President Barack Obama was heading the ticket in 2008, Hendricks says the energy among local Democrats was unprecedented. But only two years later …

“I just haven’t seen that same degree of activity in this election.”

Hendricks admits that like in the Waycross area local Tea Party supporters are an exception and they will be more motivated to go out to the polls. But their impact may not be as strong and voter turnout is still expected to be low.
And it could be even lower in traditionally Democratic parts of the state like Columbus. West Georgia has been somewhat insulated from the economic downturn thanks to thousands of jobs that came with the nearby KIA Motors Plant, and the expansion of Fort Benning. Even home prices have weathered the storm.

Despite the good economic news there, the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer’s Alan Riquelmy says Tea Party activists are being heard. But he says with only 2% of voters having cast an early ballot so far …

“I’m not sure it’s going to be Tea Party or anybody else. It just doesn’t look like there’s going to be a lot of participation at all in the primary.”

Early voting for the July 20 primary continues through Friday. Polls open at 7 next Tuesday morning.

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