By Bill Kirk
---- — With last week’s debate offering a chance for Republican Sen. Scott Brown and Democratic challenger Elizabeth Warren to voice their positions on the issues, there’s one voice that remains silent - but may be loud once the final election results are counted: blank votes.
In the Sept. 6 primary, Brown and Warren were unopposed. However, there were far fewer blank ballots for Brown than for Warren, which has some poll watchers looking with interest at the results.
For example, in Methuen, there were 2,203 votes cast in the Democratic primary. Warren got 2,099 votes, but Democratic voters left 1,006 Warren ballots blank, or about 45 percent.
For Brown, meanwhile, a total of 1,478 Republicans cast their ballots, with just 41, or 2.7 percent of voters, leaving the ballots blank.
Similar results can be seen in other Merrimack Valley communities, where 17 percent of the votes were blank for Warren in Haverhill, compared to just 6 percent for Brown.
In Lawrence, the difference was 30 percent blank for Warren and 3 percent for Brown.
Warren’s campaign largely dismissed the difference, saying there was “strong grassroots enthusiasm in the Merrimack Valley” for Warren, and that more than 1,000 people across the region “have signed up to volunteer for our campaign.”
The campaign’s statement went on to say: “In just the past two weeks, Elizabeth’s grassroots supporters have organized door-to-door canvasses in Andover, Haverhill, Georgetown, Lawrence, Methuen, North Andover and Wilmington. Elizabeth has been focused on reaching out and meeting with people in the Merrimack Valley since the start of the campaign and support for her continues to grow.”
Brown’s campaign did not respond to requests for comment.
Longtime Democratic political consultant Michael Goldman said he thought the difference in blank votes was a result of the fact that there was a Congressional primary on the Republican ballot, but not on the Democratic ballot.
Jonathan Golnik defeated fellow Republican Thomas Weaver in the primary and will now go up against incumbent Niki Tsongas, D-Lowell.
“If you were voting for Golnik or Weaver, there was no reason not to throw a vote to Brown,” Goldman said. “On the Democratic side, there was no big federally contested primary, so the only reason anyone would go out to vote would be for local races.”
There were a number of local races on the Democratic ballot, but those don’t traditionally draw out high numbers of voters the way federal races do, he said.
Goldman added, however, that the low number of blanks for Brown “reinforces what polling has told us about how he has strong support among Republicans” and will even pickup cross-over support from some Democrats.
“The Democrats didn’t throw her (Warren) a vote because it didn’t matter,” he said. “While the Republicans did to show their support. But in both cases, the turnout was so dismal that you can’t really extrapolate anything.”
Turnout in the area was around 10 percent for the primary, while most prognosticators think the final election in November will see record turnouts of around 90 percent.
Andover-based Republican strategist Meredith Warren, of Lyric Consulting, said she thinks the blank ballots are a harbinger of things to come for both candidates.
“It’s interesting there were so many blanks for Warren on the Democratic side,” she said. “Seeing how there were so few blanks for Brown, I take it as a sign that there are a lot of Democrats out there who are either dissatisfied with Warren as their nominee or who are planning to support Brown and intend to vote for him in November when he’s on their ballot.”
A number of polls in recent days have shown that the race is pretty even.
According to the poll conducted earlier this week by the Suffolk University Political Research Center, Warren leads Brown 48 percent to 44 percent among likely voters in the Nov. 6 general election. Eight percent of voters responded they were still undecided.
Polls released last weekend by Western New England University Polling Institute and Public Policy Polling showed Warren ahead of Brown by six points and two points respectively, all positive changes for the Democrat from earlier surveys.
Brown’s support among voters likely to cast their ballots for President Barack Obama in November is also waning, perhaps explaining the shift toward Warren. While in May, 24 percent of Obama voters said they would cross parties to vote for Brown, only 19 percent in the most recent survey said they would split the ticket.
“The Democratic National Convention appears to have connected the dots for some voters in Massachusetts,” Paleologos said. “They’ve linked Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, Elizabeth Warren and Congressional candidate Joseph Kennedy, whose district includes southeastern Mass. Warren benefitted not only from her own speech, but from the oratory of others, both inside and outside of Massachusetts.”
The most recent poll, released Thursday, showed Brown ahead of Warren. The UMass Lowell-Boston Herald poll of more than 500 registered voters showed 50 percent would vote for Brown if the election were today, compared with 44 percent for Warren.
Material from the State House News Service was used in this report.
The Blank Vote