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The Free Congress © Commentary:

Primary Numbers
By Paul M. Weyrich
February 13, 2004


I apologized to an important political figure in Washington last week on behalf of my profession. I started my professional life as a journalist. Later, when I came to Washington, it was to work with the media from the inside. Then throughout my career, which has included the initiation of eleven conservative institutions, I always considered myself a journalist. When, in 1980, we began to publish what is now Stu Rothenburg's Political Report, I insisted on journalistic standards. Former Speaker of the House, Tom Foley (D-WA.), called me once and said Stu had written the most objective report about his race that anyone in the media had written. He was shocked. How could a conservative think tank produce a balanced report on politics? It is because we set out to tell the truth. Even though I now am in my eleventh year of writing commentaries, I try to be balanced even when I strongly advocate a point of view.

The reason for my apology was that throughout this primary season we have been hearing about the record turnout of voters participating in Democrat caucuses and primaries. I bought the lie. The truth is that, except for Iowa and New Hampshire, there has not been any sort of record turnout for the Democrats.

Even in New Hampshire the vote was far less than what the Republicans had when they last had a contested primary in 2000. The Democrats this year had 219,787 votes in their primary. The GOP in 2000 had 239,523 votes. That 20,000 difference is major in a state the size of New Hampshire.

Let's examine the turnout in some of the other states which has gone absolutely unreported anywhere:

  • In Missouri, 416,104 voters turned out for the Democrats. But in 1988, when there was also a hotly contested race, the Democrat turnout was 527,805. I guess local boy Dick Gephardt dropping out didn't help any this year. And the Republicans in 2000 had 475,705, by the way.
  • Or how about North Dakota? Do you know the total vote up there this year for the Democrats? It was a mere 12,512. By contrast, in 1992 when the Democrats had a lively race (when Bill Clinton was nominated), the Democrat turnout was 32,786.
  • In Oklahoma where you had a very hot race between Wesley Clark, John Edwards and John Kerry the Democrat turnout was 302,169. By contrast, in 1992 it was 416,129, a difference of more than 100,000 votes.
  • In South Carolina it is true that the Democrats with 291,175 bested their 1992 showing of 116,414. They had local favorite son John Edwards (He was born there) on the ballot. But contrast this with the 2000 GOP contest where George W. Bush and John McCain shot it out. The Republican total four years ago in South Carolina was 565,991.... a difference of 270,000-some votes.
  • Or how about Michigan? I heard several media reports about the supposed record turnout there with people standing in line and the possibility of polling hours being extended. This for a total vote of 162,929. That's nice, except that in 1988 there were about 212,000 Democrats who voted. Get this; in 2000 1,392,023 Republicans went to the polls to vote for delegates for President. That's a difference of a little more than one million one hundred thousand votes.
  • The Democrat turnout in Washington State was really anemic compared with even four years ago when Al Gore had things wrapped up, but even then the GOP turnout was about 350,000 higher than the Democrats that year.
  • Now let's look at New Mexico. You know, the state of intrepid vice presidential possibility Gov. Bill Richardson. The Democrat turnout this year was 94,108. Even in 2000, with Al Gore having things totally in hand, there were 132,280 votes. Ah, but in 1992 when Clinton was slugging it out 181,443 voters came to the polls. And here's the point: New Mexico has 495,000 registered Democrats and only 310,000 registered Republicans. Still, only 19,000 more Democrats voted in an early 2004 primary than Republicans who voted in a very late 2000 primary.
  • In Arizona the Democrat turnout was 224,020, which was slightly up from the Gore year of 2000 when 193,433 turned out. But look at the GOP turnout in 2000. It was 290,637.
  • In Delaware there are 224,000 registered Democrats. Only 175,000 Republicans are registered. Yet only 1,100 more Democrats voted in the hotly contested primary this year than voted in the similarly hotly contested Republican primary in 2000.

I could drone on and on but my apology was precisely for this point. Not only did the media outright misrepresent what was actually happening on the ground in these elections, but there was no context presented. It is true that in Iowa there was the largest turnout ever, about 122,000 Democrats compared with 85,000 Republicans in the celebrated Republican caucuses of 2000. And that point was pushed over and over again. Yet, Iowa is the ONLY state where the Democrat figures compare favorably not only with contests in 1988 and 1992 but with the Republican figure from 2000. In every other place the Democrat figures are down from previous years or, as in New Hampshire, still under-perform compared with GOP turnout in 2000. And as I mentioned, in states where there is actual registration, the Democrat performance was not impressive.

I say all of this not to be partisan. (Indeed, my commentary, which recently suggested that Democrats might win the Presidency, upset many in Republican circles.) I say this rather to call attention to the really shoddy reporting on the part of the national media. The Internet now gives all of us the opportunity to look up data easily and in one-tenth of one second. There is absolutely no excuse for not reporting things in context. And there certainly is no excuse for reporting that there is backbreaking record turnout when it is less than the last contested primary.

I suppose I will have to keep on apologizing for what I still consider to be my profession, but why folks? I know the national media tends to be lazy but this is absurd.

Paul Weyrich is Chairman and CEO of the Free Congress Foundation.

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