The Primary: Expected Low Voter Turnout Would Give Incumbents The Edge

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A voter in Cambridge, Massachusetts (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)
A voter in Cambridge, Massachusetts (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

Massachusetts voters are supposed to be heading to the polls this coming Tuesday, but with the primary election set for the day after Labor Day vacation, just how many will actually show up remains to be seen.

Gene Hartigan, a Republican political analyst and former executive director of the Massachusetts Republican party, and Marie St. Fleur, a Democratic political analyst, principal of St. Fleur Communications and former state representative, joined Morning Edition to discuss several of the key races, the increasing influence of independent voters here in Massachusetts and the potential impact of low voter turnout at the Sept. 4 election.

Listen to the conversation or read interview highlights below.

The following highlights have been lightly edited.

Bob Oakes: With voting set for the day after Labor Day, low voter turnout is expected.

Marie St. Fleur: I think all the campaigns are impacted by this, particularly the challengers. Given the kind of heat that we've been experiencing in the last few days and people heading off to vacation, I think it's going to be very difficult to generate turnout.

Gene Hartigan: I think it’s going to be a low turnout, and that tends to help incumbents who have a foothold to start.

Aside from the 7th district congressional contest between Congressman Michael Capuano and Boston City Councilor Ayanna Pressley, and the crowded race to replace Niki Tsongas in the 3rd Congressional District, have any of this year's races sparked enough attention to provoke more than a meager turnout?

Gene Hartigan: I think those are the races that are getting the attention because there are multiple candidates in one and then two high-profile candidates in the other. But I still don't see anyone getting excited about politics so far this summer.

Marie St. Fleur: The only surprise I think that we could have though is because of the generation of young people who are actually getting engaged now. I have been involved in a couple of campaigns and I've seen them involved and being very excited about this. If the millennials come out, that might be the only surprise that happens this primary.

Let's talk about the 7th district, but first I think we should make a disclosure here: Marie, you've endorsed Pressley. … Our poll from early August showed Capuano maintaining a steady 13-point lead over Pressley in the race, but notable endorsements have flowed to both races in the weeks since. And it remains a very hot contest. Who has the edge?

Marie St. Fleur: I don't know. I think it's a ground game and incumbency always gives you an edge. But I also think the demographics of the district have changed. There are new people who are engaged that — if they actually come out and vote — will shift this thing on Tuesday.

Gene Hartigan: We've seen this in other parts of the country. A good example is down in Florida where Mayor of Tallahassee Andrew Gillum topped a crowded group and just won this week. And so it just depends who's going to show up here in this race. I think both [candidates] have good ground games and both have a base they can work off of. And that's why I think that's going to be a close race and a late night race.

Let's switch gears: Republicans running for the U.S. Senate. It's a three-way primary for the chance to take on Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren in the general election this fall. The Republicans, Beth Lindstrom, John Kingston and Geoff Diehl, have shown some variation in their views on President Trump, but all agree it's too early to consider impeachment hearings. State Rep. Diehl served as co-chair of the Trump campaign here in Massachusetts, where the president went on to receive more than a million votes in the presidential race in 2016. How large does Trump loom over this Senate race for Diehl?

Gene Hartigan: The largest voter base in Massachusetts are enrolled independents … If a lot of those people decide to come out and vote for Charlie Baker versus a conservative reverend [Scott Lively] who’s running against him, then I think they're going to go down the ballot and look at Beth Lindstrom and see that she's the most Baker-like candidate in the race. The Trump supporters are going to go with Diehl no matter what happens — no matter what he says, no matter what the president says. But this is not the federal election from before. This is a primary election and you're not going to have a turnout voting anti-Clinton — voting against something as a protest, which I think a lot of the Trump votes were then. So I think this is a close race …

It's interesting because I think a lot of people in Massachusetts believe that because of Diehl's connection to Trump, he's the shoo-in, but neither of you see it that way?

Marie St. Fleur: The question is whether folks who voted for Trump the message that they were trying to send as it related to their dissatisfaction — does it carry over into this race? And I’m not sure that the energy is there.

This segment aired on August 31, 2018.


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