Behind the numbers: Republicans ahead in Florida, Arizona turnout 

The returns from this week’s Florida and Arizona primaries show, once again, that Republicans have an impressive advantage in the balance of enthusiasm this year.

In Florida, the turnout in the top Republican race (for governor) was 1,282,490, while the turnout in the top Democratic race (for U.S. senator) was 909,307. That’s in a state where registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans by 612,773. About one-third (32%) of registered Republicans showed up and voted. Only one-fifth (20%) of registered Democrats did so.

The patterns are apparent in congressional districts where there were primary contests for U.S. House in both parties. In FL11 (central Tampa and St. Petersburg), where John McCain got 33% of the vote, 40% of the two-party vote was in the Republican primary. In FL13 (Sarasota, Bradenton), where McCain got 52% of the vote, 70% of the two-party vote was in the Republican primary. In FL22 (coastal Broward and Palm Beach Counties, condo country), where McCain got 48% of the vote, 58% of the two-party vote was in the Republican primary. In FL24 (Orlando-Space Coast), where McCain got 51% of the vote, 64% of the two-party vote was in the Republican primary. In FL25 (west Miami-Dade County-Naples), where McCain got 50% of the vote, 65% of the two-party vote was in the Republican primary.

With the exception of FL11, a safe Democratic seat, these are or have recently been seriously contested seats. FL13, represented for two terms by Katharine Harris, was the scene of a long-contested open-seat election in 2006, in which Republican Vern Buchanan was eventually declared the winner by 369 votes. FL22, where 26-year incumbent Republican Clay Shaw was defeated by Democrat Ron Klein in 2006, is the scene of a serious contest this year between Klein and Republican Allen West. It could be an interesting test of the popularity of the Obama administration’s policies and attitudes toward Israel; there is a large elderly Jewish population there.

In FL24 Democrat Suzanne Kosmas upset scandal-tinged Republican Tom Feeney in 2008 and then proceeded to provide one of the key last-minute votes for Obamacare in March 2010. That gift to Speaker Nancy Pelosi will undoubtedly be an issue this year. FL25 two years ago had a serious contest between incumbent Mario Diaz-Balart and Democrat Joe Garcia; Democrats hoped that their appeal to young Cuban-Americans would result in the unseating of Diaz-Balart and his brother Lincoln in the neighboring FL21. This year Lincoln retired and Mario moved to the somewhat more Republican FL21, and it looks like Democrats will not be making a serious effort in either one.

There is one exception to this pattern: FL2, where incumbent Allen Boyd was challenged by a more liberal Democrat in the primary and won by only 51%-49%. This contest attracted 58% of the two-party vote to the Democratic primary in what historically was a solidly Democratic district. Boyd trailed in the parts of the district where current Democrats win in November, in counties with large black populations and in Leon County, which includes the state capital of Tallahassee and two large universities (Florida State and historically black Florida A&M). He is now a Republican target in the general election, and in a district which McCain carried with 54% of the vote. He’s got potentially conflicting goals: to turn out the liberal and black voters who preferred his primary opponent and to appeal to the conservative middle of the district’s electorate.

In Arizona, as in Michigan and Missouri earlier this month, turnout in the Republican primary was roughly double turnout in the Democratic primary. In the Senate primary, 502,065 voters participated in the Republican primary and 249,329 in the Democratic primary. Arizona has more registered Republicans than Democrats, but not a lot more (117,603). The difference in turnout was stark: 45% of registered Republican voted, while only 25% of registered Democrats did so.

Arizona does tabulate and report the vote for unopposed candidates in primaries, so we can compare turnout in each of the eight congressional districts with previous elections. The following table shows the Republican percentage of the two-party vote in 2010, 2008, 2006 and 2004. That gives us two years in which Republicans had the advantage in the balance of enthusiasm (2010 and 2004) and two years in which the Democrats did so (2008 and 2006). There were no Democratic candidates in AZ3 in 2004 and AZ6 in 2006 and 2004. I’ve also added the percentage for John McCain in 2008.

District                  2010          2008            2006           2004                 McCain
   AZ1                         60            45                 50                 43                             54
   AZ2                         75            68                 68                 59                             61
   AZ3                         73           66                  70                  -                              56
   AZ4                         36            30                 33                 37                             33
   AZ5                         71            62                  65                77                             52
   AZ6                         78            71                   -                   -                              61
   AZ7                         47            35                 38                 39                            42
   AZ8                         62            53                 51                 65                            52

 AZ4 and AZ7 are Hispanic-majority districts. The Republican share of the primary vote was not much higher than McCain’s 2008 percentages there. But it was higher than in the last three primaries (except for AZ4 in 2004), which refutes the mainstream meme that Hispanics are in revolt against the Republican party because of S.B. 1070, the law the Obama administration is challenging in federal court.

 AZ2 and AZ6 have been among the fastest-growing and highest-population districts in the country in the past decade; neither contains the socially most prestigious parts of metro Phoenix (Scottsdale, Paradise Valley), however. They have also been the state’s most heavily Republican districts in recent elections and the primary returns suggest they are more Republican now than ever. Neither is seriously contested this year. AZ3, in the northern reaches of metro Phoenix, is also pretty heavily Republican. This is the district where Ben Quayle won 23% of the vote in a ten-candidate primary, which seems likely to be tantamount to victory in the general election.

 The other three districts have switched from Republican congressmen to Democrats in 2006 or 2008. All are seriously contested this time. AZ5, which includes Scottsdale and other very upscale parts of metro Phoenix plus Tempe, home of Arizona State University, is the district that in 2006 ousted J. D. Hayworth, who lost this year’s Senate primary to John McCain by an unambiguous 56%-32% margin, and replaced him with a genial high school teacher and Tempe council member and mayor, Harry Mitchell. This year Mitchell faces David Schweikert, whom he beat 53%-44% in 2008. This looks like a seat that could change hands.

 So does AZ1, which includes much of the northern and eastern parts of the state. The Democratic bastions here are Flagstaff and the Navajo Reservation; the Republican bastion is Yavapai County which includes Prescott (where Barry Goldwater started all his campaigns) and the red rock country around Sedona. Democrat Ann Kirkpatrick won this district in 2008; she faces Paul Gosar, a dentist who won the eight-candidate Republican primary with 31% of the vote.

 AZ8, which includes much of Tucson and the troubled border area in Cochise County has been held for two terms by Democrat Gabrielle Giffords. Jesse Kelly won the Republican primary by a 49%-41% margin over Jonathan Paton. This district was held for 24 years by Republican Jim Kolbe, and it could easily go Republican again this year.

For more election numbers read my latest post - Alaska: Where did Joe Miller win?

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