The Debate

That Enthusiasm Thing

Turnout in the Republican primary in New Hampshire hit a new high. But the numbers fell far short of remarkable.

I’ll be packing up and heading home from New Hampshire tomorrow, but just wanted to follow up briefly on one of the points I made a couple of times yesterday – the fact that there appeared to be an enthusiasm gap among Republicans, at least compared to what I saw last time I was here.

I mentioned that I got the feeling that the campaigns weren’t as visible, and it seems I wasn’t alone in getting that impression. The New Hampshire Union Leader ran a front page story this morning suggesting the same thing.

“Campaign supporters gathered in Manchester Tuesday night to cheer on their favorite candidates, but throughout the day, few stood outside the polls in a primary race that saw smaller than expected turnout in many cities and towns,” it said.

“Somersworth City Clerk Diane Dubois said that after visiting each of the city’s five wards throughout the day, she was shocked to see no one campaigning or holding signs.”

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Turnout in the primary actually did end up beating the previous high, coming in at 248,000 compared with just under 240,000 in 2008. But that falls far short of the kind of enthusiasm that saw almost 290,000 vote in the 2008 Democratic primary, and with Iowans also failing to turn out in the numbers Republicans must have been hoping for, it’s difficult to describe the Republican base as highly energized.

That doesn’t make it easy for Barack Obama by any stretch of the imagination. But with glimmers of hope with the drop in the unemployment rate, to 8.5 percent, things look at least a little less bleak for the president than they did only a few months ago.