Runoff musters lackluster ardor

Published 9:35 pm Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Staff Writer

Of around 2,900 Hyde County voters eligible to participate in the second primary, just five had marked ballots during the one-stop, early voting period as of mid-Monday afternoon.
Don’t blame the low turnout on a dearth of voter awareness, advised Cindy Carawan, Hyde County’s elections director.
“I think they’re aware,” Carawan said. “I think there’s too many ads on TV and in the mailbox for them not to be aware. There’s not enough to vote on, and they just don’t take the time.”
By that, Carawan meant that locally there is just one issue on the ballot: the runoff pitting Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Elaine Marshall against challenger Cal Cunningham.
Marshall scored the most votes in the May 4 primary election, but she failed to get 40 percent of the vote, opening the door for the second-place finisher — Cunningham — to call for a runoff, or second primary.
With lagging voter enthusiasm in evidence, it looks as if a small fraction of Democrats and unaffiliated voters will decide this race.
The story is much the same in Beaufort County, where 51 voters had taken part in one-stop voting by early Monday afternoon.
“I think it’s pretty good,” said Anita Branch, deputy elections director, adding that the 51-vote tally was actually beating expectations.
Kellie Harris Hopkins, Beaufort County’s elections director, is forecasting 2.5-percent turnout — “if that much” — in her county for the second primary June 22.
Add to the diluted voter mix the fact that Marshall and Cunningham were running pretty much dead even in a recent poll and you’ve got a recipe for uncertainty about which runner will sprint to the finish against incumbent Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., in November.
Statewide media reports show that Marshall, North Carolina’s secretary of state, and Cunningham, a former state senator and Iraq war veteran, are vying hard to lure the attention of the few voters who are paying attention.
Both candidates are hitting the airwaves and making the usual rounds of political events, and one local Democrat reported getting at least three mailed-out fliers from one of the campaigns.
On Monday, a spokesman for Cunningham’s campaign said the candidate is trying to generate enthusiasm among voters.
“Our campaign is about getting out as many voters as we possibly can,” said Jared Leopold. “We recognize that runoffs have a history of being lower turnout, but our goal is to engage as many voters as we can this election.”
He said the campaign was pleased to see a “nice crowd” come out in Davidson County on Thursday, the first day of the one-stop period. (Cunningham hails from Lexington.)
“The real challenge is there isn’t a whole lot of history on this front,” Leopold stated. “It’s been a few years since you had a U.S. Senate race where you had a runoff election. It’s been quite a few years.”
A spokesman for the Marshall campaign said the secretary’s camp is doing all it can to increase turnout, but a further statement wasn’t released before a news deadline.
Back in Hyde County, Carawan observed that minimal voter interest isn’t odd for second primaries, sharing that in one such contest a few years ago just 66 county voters showed up at the polls.
Asked for her prediction of turnout from now through June 19, the last day of one-stop voting, she replied by saying, “Low. Very low.”