Few voters expected Aug. 10, but leaders hope for more
ST. PAUL -- The Aug. 10 primary election could slip by with little notice, although political leaders hope not.
The highlight race, by far, is for the Democratic-Farmer-Laborite governor endorsement, where three major candidates have lit up Minnesota politics in recent weeks. No other statewide or congressional district races have caught the public's attention, but some county office races are attracting notice.
There is no way to know how many voters will go to the polls in the earlier-than-normal primary election, but from all indications Minnesotans should not expect turnout to be very big.
Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, himself on the ballot against a candidate who has run 25 times and lost 24 of those, said he expects no more than 400,000 of the state's 3.5 million eligible voters to go to the polls. That is on the low side of primaries, which normally draw far fewer votes than Minnesota's nation-leading general election turnout.
Ritchie, in charge of the state's elections, said he has noticed one thing that could boost turnout: intense sheriff's races in some counties scattered around the state.
"What we know is exciting races drive turnout in primaries," Ritchie said. "There are a number of counties with a number of exciting county races, especially sheriff's races, so there will be hot spots around the state."
The implication is that those counties with hot local races could experience larger turnout and, thus, exert a stronger than normal influence on the statewide election.
On a statewide basis, the action belongs to Democrats.
"This is certainly a much more competitive primary than we have seen in recent years," DFL Chairman Brian Melendez said about the governor's contest.
April's party convention endorsed Margaret Anderson Kelliher, and the DFL leadership is working for her.
The primary contest "does not really change our plans," Melendez said, but the party's gradual ramp-up of workers and volunteers in this election year has helped Kelliher. "We ultimately want to convince people to turn out in November for the DFL nominee."
While at times Democrats have not pulled together after a primary election, Melendez said that even if Matt Entenza or Mark Dayton win on Aug. 10, the party will fall unite without problem because any of the three top DFL candidates is better than anyone else of 17 still in the governor's race.
Who shows up at the polls Aug. 10 will determine who carries the DFL banner in November.
From all indications, it appears senior citizens will dominate the polling booths, and candidates have worked hard to court them. Seniors are expected to outnumber others because they are loyal voters and the earlier primary means many younger voters may be out of town or busy with family activities.
Melendez said he does not know how many will vote, but "it is August, so people are not here."
The primary was moved up a month to give election officials time to get general election ballots to overseas voters.
Still, having a governor's race could attract more of a crowd than conventional wisdom allows, Melendez said. "The governor's race is kind of the ballgame for many people."
On the Republican side, with much less interest in statewide races, officials just hope enough party faithful show up to pass the endorsed candidates on to the general election.
GOP-endorsed governor candidate Tom Emmer has no serious opposition, and party Chairman Tony Sutton said: "I don't think Tom Emmer has any trouble getting attention in this primary environment."
But Sutton fears that if knowledgeable voters do not show up, some Republican-endorsed candidates could be in danger.
"The people who are running against Tom Emmer are pretty much political gadflies," Sutton said, but he cannot shake the memory of the year when the person he called the "definition of a political gadfly" upset the party's endorsed candidate for attorney general.
Sharon Anderson lost in that general election, but she kept coming back and is on the ballot again this year, against GOP-endorsed attorney general hopeful Chris Barden.
Some candidates "figured out that for a few hundred dollars ... that is a good way to get attention," Sutton said.
In the Independence Party, so few usually vote in primary elections that endorsed candidate Tom Horner is enlisting help to encourage a larger turnout. His most vocal opponent, Rob Hahn, has gained a lot of publicity in recent weeks, although some of it was for threatening his wife.
Polls are open 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. in most Minnesota precincts.
Minnesota voters may find their polling places at http://pollfinder.sos.state.mn.us.
Other voting information is available from local county auditors' offices and the secretary of state's Web site at www.sos.state.mn.us.