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NHPrimary.com: Record turnout forecast for New Hampshire primary

By Kevin Landrigan/The Telegraph of Nashua, New Hampshire

January 31, 2000
Web posted at: 10:20 a.m. EST (1520 GMT)

CONCORD -- A record 351,000 voters will cast ballots in Tuesday's election, reversing a trend of lower turnouts during booming economies, according to Secretary of State Bill Gardner.

The most competitive races in both parties in at least 12 years - if not two decades - will lead to the better-than-expected showing of voters at the polls, he said.

"I really agonized over this one, and I still believe we can have a defining moment over the weekend that can cause this turnout to either spike upward or go down," Gardner said during an interview late last week.

"I have been saying for some time it would be 300,000 to 400,000 voters. I decided to come down almost exactly in the middle."

The Republican primary showdown featuring U.S. Sen. John McCain of Arizona and Texas Gov. George W. Bush will draw 191,000 voters, Gardner said.

The match play between Vice President Al Gore and former U.S. Sen. Bill Bradley of New Jersey will pull in 160,000 voters, Gardner said.

This would translate to the pool of those voting Republican equal to 71 percent of registered Republicans and those voting Democrat equal to 81 percent registered in that party.

If Gardner is accurate, this means that of New Hampshire's 738,422 voters in the state, 47.5 percent will show up Tuesday.

"I know this is out on a limb a bit because the national trend has been for lower and lower turnouts, and the Iowa vote is the lowest in 20 years," Gardner said.

"I think the level of enthusiasm that I'm picking up surrounding these campaigns will make a difference."

The prediction would be well short of the modern-day record when 348,303 - or 61 percent of eligible voters that year - went to the polls in 1992. Independent voters will be an important swing population, Gardner said. For the first time, they are the largest bloc in the state with 274,927, compared with 265,679 Republicans and 197,816 Democrats.

But Gardner said some pollsters are overestimating how big the turnout of these voters will be - he pegs that at 81,000, which would amount to 23.1 percent of the predicted vote in both parties.

As ex-president of the National Association of Secretaries of State, Gardner has put a lot of his focus on how to motivate younger citizens to vote and challenged high school student bodies to seek 100 percent voter turnout of eligible seniors.

"It's the young people who make up the large increase in the independent population. They aren't connected with parties. They are liable to go in either direction on Tuesday," Gardner said.

The closest parallel for this election in recent times is 1988, when 159,000 Republicans and 125,000 Democrats voted during the height of the last economic boom.

Then-Vice President George H. Bush made his comeback from an Iowa defeat with victory in New Hampshire over former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, while Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis solidly won here over House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt of Missouri, among others.

The total turnout in that election was 48.7 percent, very close to what Gardner forecasts this year.

"I think this could be like 1988 when two real competitive races drew more voters out than one would have thought," he said. "I still think that could happen here."

ELECTION 2000

As New Hampshire primary looms, candidates set sights on voters (1-29-00)

Bradley: Might invoke 25th Amendment for heart procedure if needed (1-29-00)

Gore's lead over Bradley slips (1-29-00)

Candidates pick up pace, endorsements, in final days of New Hampshire campaign (1-28-00)

Des Moines Register: Attendance drops substantially for Iowa caucuses (1-28-00)

Bradley continues to hammer at Gore's honesty in campaign appearances (1-27-00)

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