The turnout patterns in yesterday's North Carolina primary election should have Democrats even more worried about what's going to happen this fall than they were before.
In an election where there was a highly contested Democratic Senate primary and a Republican contest that was a foregone conclusion you would have expected Democratic turnout to far exceed that on the GOP side. But only 53% of the Senate primary votes were cast on the Democratic side to 47% on the Republican, a gap that's smaller than the party registration difference in the state.
The most comparable recent primary to last night's was in 2002 when Elizabeth Dole was the inevitable Republican nominee and Democrats had three well known candidates duking it out in Erskine Bowles, Dan Blue, and Elaine Marshall. That year 60% of the votes cast in the Senate primary were on the Democratic side, and even with greater interest that year Bowles lost by a large margin in the general election and the party only avoided losing control of the State House because of the Jim Black/Michael Decker deal.
There will be a temptation to declare that yesterday's turnout figures are indicative of a fired up, energetic Republican base but that's really not the case. The 374,000 or so voters in the GOP Senate primary yesterday represents a 12% reduction from the party's similarly unexciting contest back in 2002 when 426,000 voted.
What the turnout numbers do show is a disturbing lack of interest from Democratic voters. The 426,000 who cast a ballot in the Senate primary represents a 32% decline from the 628,000 who did in 2002, and this is despite the fact that after the 2008 election cycle there are more registered Democrats in the state than ever.
It's a long way until the fall and maybe Democratic voters just care more about beating Republicans than choosing their party's nominees but this is the first hard data we have on the comparative engagement of the two party's voters in North Carolina and it does not bode well for Democrats.