At the apex of GOP's reign, primary turnout continues to sink

Earlier this week, Secretary of State Brian Kemp confirmed what his website had already told us – that turnout for the May 20 primary was dismal. Under 20 percent.

But what was significant was where it was dismal. Cobb County remained the lead GOP factory for votes, generating 50,494. But that was down 23 percent from the 2004 GOP primary for U.S. Senate that featured Johnny Isakson, Herman Cain and Mac Collins.

Gwinnett County turned out 40,845 votes – a 27 percent drop in turnout from the 2004 primary. Fulton County’s 35,775 Republican votes were down 21 percent.

Statewide, the 2014 turnout for Republicans was down more than 7 percent from 2004 – and down 11 percent from the 2010 GOP primary that featured a hot gubernatorial race.

A friend has crunched the numbers for us. You can find a county-by-county breakdown of where U.S. Senate candidate and businessman David Perdue found his 29,177-vote lead here. A ranking of county-by-county turnout here. And the county-by-county comparison with the 2004 primary here.

Last Tuesday's depressed turnout had obvious implications for former secretary of state Karen Handel of Roswell. Here's what she told Martha Zoller and Tim Bryant on WGAU (1340AM) this morning:

"I think the turnout in May, a few weeks ago, was very depressed in metro Atlanta for this reason: So many families, their children go to private schools, and most of the private schools had finished up the week before the primary. And then the week of the primary was the last week of [public] school. So I think that really had an impact on turnout."

But in fact, the trend is longer and more daunting than an intersection with the the school-year calendar. And the decline in primary voting is actually larger than these numbers show – if you also figure in population growth, said Steve Anthony, a political science lecturer at Georgia State University:

"There were a lot of hot races sprinkled all over the state. You had a situation for a good turnout, but it just didn't happen."

Anthony points out that Democrats in Georgia have nothing but schadenfreude to cheer them. Their numbers are worse.

Most voters will take their swing at the U.S. Senate candidates in the November general election, Anthony said – which is why he’s predicting a 50 percent turnout then.

Updated: Over at Emory University, political scientist Alan Abramowitz had another explanation for the low May 20 turnout, and sent this via email:

2. As for the Republicans, I don't think it means that voters are no longer identifying with parties, in this case the Republican Party. More likely, it means that most Republican voters see little or no difference among the candidates so no reason to strongly favor one over the others. That is especially true when you take into account the fact that it was very clear that neither of the more extreme conservatives in the race, Broun and Gingrey, had any real chance based on all of the polling.

3. So low primary turnout doesn't mean that Republicans or Democrats are turning away from their respective parties. Rather, most of them feel comfortable voting for whichever candidate emerges from the primary since the differences among them are relatively minor.

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The New York Times points out why those polls showing Democrats Michelle Nunn and Jason Carter at the top of their respective U.S. Senate and gubernatorial races might be a little suspect:

Yet last week, one automated polling firm, Rasmussen Reports, released a survey of likely Georgia voters that was significantly younger than one would expect for a midterm election. A hefty 34 percent were 18 to 39, while voters over age 65 represented just 17 percent of likely voters.

The younger electorate has consequences. The poll showed Michelle Nunn, a Democrat, leading two possible Republican opponents, David Perdue and Jack Kingston, by 3 and 6 percentage points. But Ms. Nunn led by about 20 points among those 18 to 29, while trailing by 24 and 31 points among voters over age 65. If the Rasmussen sample were as old as a midterm electorate, Ms. Nunn would have trailed Mr. Perdue by about 1 percentage point and led Mr. Kingston by about 3 points.

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Two days after Karen Handel endorsed U.S. Rep. Jack Kingston in the GOP runoff for U.S. Senate, one of her strongest allies -- U.S. Rep. Tom Price of Roswell -- did the same. From this morning's press release:

"Jack Kingston has always been a steadfast leader in the fight for conservative principles," said Price. "On a broad range of issues, he's built a proven record of cutting wasteful spending and holding Washington accountable. He doesn't shy away from making the tough but important decisions."

Rep. Doug Collins, another key north Georgia Republican, is also backing Kingston.

We're presuming that more members of the G-9 -- Phil Gingrey? -- will follow next week.

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What you're looking at here is a freeze-frame of a Fox News bit in which U.S. Senate candidate Jack Kingston touts his version of a "Contract with America" for national Republicans.

Notice anything? There's no mention of the Affordable Care Act. Nor do any social issues – such as abortion or gay marriage – make the Power Point cut. Watch the clip here.

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Gov. Nathan Deal is getting some more national love for his criminal justice overhaul.

The National Association of Drug Court Professionals feted him Thursday in Anaheim, California at an event proclaiming him the 2014 Governor of the Year.

Deal's three-year initiative is aimed at keeping more low-level offenders out of jail by diverting them to alternative sentencing programs like drug courts. The governor said the changes have already saved taxpayers more than $50 million and has promised more reforms if given a second term.

"We are offering misguided youth and nonviolent offenders a second chance, but ultimately we are creating productive citizens rather than more dangerous criminals," he said, adding: "We'll continue building upon and investing in a smart-on-crime approach that will benefit Georgians and their communities for generations to come."

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Atlanta Banana, a local version of The Onion, is growing on us as a site for political satire, with bits such as this:

"I want the people of Georgia to know that I work hard for them," said Carter. "I will not sarcastically ask Governor Deal 'What's the Deal with that,' nor will I ham it up by referring to any 'raw Deal.'"