Behind the numbers: What the Colorado primary results really mean 

Four states held primary elections yesterday (actually a runoff primary in Georgia). The most dramatic contests were in Colorado, which has voted 1% more than the national average for the winner of the last two presidential elections—54%-45% for Barack Obama in 2008, 52%-47% for George W. Bush in 2004.

Appointed Senator Michael Bennet won the Democratic primary over former state House Speaker Andrew Romanoff, 54%-46%. Some are spinning this as a big win for Bennet. Not really: 54% might be a good score in a seriously contested general election, but it’s not an impressive number for an incumbent, even an appointed incumbent, in a primary. Romanoff carried Denver and Boulder Counties, the heartland of Colorado liberals, but not by wide margins; he also carried eight other counties scattered across the state. Pitkin County, where I saw Bennet at the Aspen Ideas Festival (with his brother, Atlantic editor James Bennet), went 74% for Bennet, his best percentage in the state: uber-rich liberals evidently love him. Other Colorado Democrats, it seems, are more lukewarm.

In the Republican primary for Senate, Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck beat former Lieutenant Governor Jane Norton 52%-48%, with a popular vote margin of 12,824. Buck may have gotten almost all of that from his home county which he carried 77%-23%. Norton carried Denver and its upscale suburban and exurban counties (Arapahoe, Jefferson, Douglas) plus El Paso County (Colorado Springs) with its very conservative Republican base—but none of them by wide margins. Her best margins came in the counties including the very different towns of Grand Junction and Aspen. Buck won the great bulk of counties.

The important news here is that Republicans won the turnout battle: 407,110 voted in the Republican primary, 338,537 in the Democratic primary. Republicans have an advantage in party registration, but 48% of registered Republicans voted in the primary as compared to 41% of registered Democrats. This is additional evidence that the balance of enthusiasm this year favors Republicans—and in a state which has been something of a national bellwether.

In the Republican primary for governor, businessman Dan Maes beat the initial favorite, former Congressman Scott McInnis, 51%-49%. McInnis was obviously hurt by the revelation that he plagiarized material for a report he prepared for a foundation which paid him $300,000. He paid the money back, but who could defend something like that?

Maes narrowly lost Denver County, but carried all the suburban counties, Boulder and the Front Range counties to the north and El Paso County. McInnis won Pueblo County and most of the Western Slope counties which he represented in Congress from 1992 to 2004, but his margins there were not quite enough to put him over. Maes has had his own problems as a candidate, as Fred Barnes explained in the Weekly Standard, and the favorite in the general election now is Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper, who was unopposed in the Democratic primary.

In Georgia, with 99% of precincts counted, Nathan Deal leads Karen Handel 50.2%-49.8%, a margin of 2,488 votes out of 578,672. Republican turnout was hugely greater than Democratic turnout, but this has no significance, since this was a runoff in which Democrats had a contest only for secretary of state, while Republicans had contests for governor, attorney general and two other downballot offices and congressman in four of the state’s 13 congressional districts.  In the July 20 primary, the total vote for governor was 680,499 Republican and 395,467 Democratic. That’s a big Republican advantage, but again not particularly significant: Republicans had a seriously contested primary for governor while former Governor Roy Barnes was a clear favorite in the Democratic primary, which he won with 66% of the vote.

In Minnesota, former Senator Mark Dayton won the DFL primary 41%-40% over House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher, who had been endorsed by the DFL convention process. The self-financing Dayton lost the Twin Cities metro area, running significantly behind Kelliher in Hennepin and Ramsey Counties, where central city voters in Minneapolis and St. Paul tend to be solid liberals. Dayton made up for this by carrying solid margins in the working class Iron Range and by carrying all but nine counties between the Twin Cities metro area. It’s not clear whether his weak support from upscale liberals (he lost in Rochester, home of the Mayo Clinic, and in Clay County, where there is a big state college) indicates weakness in the general election; Republican nominee Tom Emmer is a solid conservative and unlikely to appeal to the group Joel Kotkin calls gentry liberals. But gentry liberal turnout may be weak. The DFL primary attracted 441,573 voters, the Republican primary only 130,198. That’s not terribly significant, since Emmer had no serious opposition and won with 82% of the primary vote, while the DFL primary was obviously hotly contested.

Finally Connecticut. Once upon a time—in the 1960s as I recall—Connecticut was one of the first states to report election results on election night, because it was one of the few states with voting machines in every precinct. But the Connecticut secretary of state’s office seems to have fallen behind even as technology has moved ahead: the returns on its website are hopelessly incomplete. WWE millionaire Linda McMahon easily won the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate; Stamford Mayor Dan Malloy, with backing from public employee unions, beat 2006 Senate nominee Ned Lamont in the Democratic primary for governor.

Former Ambassador Tom Foley apparently edged Lieutenant Governor Mike Fedele for the Republican nomination for governor. Since the returns are incomplete, I can’t judge the relative turnout in the primaries, but generally turnout seems to have been very low. Connecticut has state party conventions which can nominate candidates and holds primaries only if non-winners at the convention choose to do so; there’s not a tradition of heavy primary voting.

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