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Booker Senate Victory Drives Historic Voter Turnout At NJ Polls

NEWARK - As the nation's political pundits begin their post-mortem analyses of today's New Jersey race for U.S. Senate, voter turnout should be a major part of the story. Torrential downpours throughout the state and a race that was expected to post a wide margin of victory for Newark Mayor Cory Booker failed to dampen voter participation at the polls. 

Early projections anticipate turnout reaching more than 300,000 votes cast today, far surpassing the average of 200,000 Democratic votes typically cast during a primary election in a non-presidential year. An hour after polls closed, Booker was leading his opponents by a wide margin, garnering 56% of votes tallied, with U.S. Representatives Frank Pallone and Rush Holt taking 25% and 14% respectively, and Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver drawing just 4%.

"Today's election made two things clear: Cory Booker and his team ran an incredibly tight, field-driven campaign with a compelling message about bringing people together to face big challenges and deliver results - and voters across New Jersey responded," said Jeremy Bird, advisor to the Cory Booker for Senate Campaign and a partner with grassroots consulting firm 270 Strategies. "If Cory Booker can get voters to turn out in a random August primary in what is widely seen as a non-competitive race - inspiring people with his fighting spirit and vision for a stronger New Jersey - there's no telling what he can accomplish for the state's families moving forward."

Led by Campaign Manager Addisu Demissie, the Booker campaign built a sophisticated statewide operation in just nine weeks. Field Director Anne Batchelder and Political Director Mark Matzen put together a field and political program that combined a volunteer-led neighborhood organizing strategy with the strength of the many local political organizations that endorsed Booker in this race. Their organizing team trained thousands of volunteers across New Jersey, made nearly one million door knocks and phone calls to targeted voters, and put together a volunteer-led field program that will continue to grow heading into the general election season.

The Booker campaign relied on many of the key organizing strategies honed on the 2012 and 2008 Obama presidential campaigns, including investing in a volunteer-led grassroots operation that prioritized neighbor-to-neighbor organizing. Campaign resources concentrated on the voters that targeting and data analysis showed were most likely to support Booker over his opponents in the election and a smart digital program broadened the reach of his message and ensured supporters in every corner of the state were able to get involved in campaign activities and help organize voters.

The unprecedented voter participation today significantly exceeds previous Democratic primary vote tallies in New Jersey for non-presidential cycles - including the 197,170 votes cast this past June during the gubernatorial primary election, 203,176 votes in 2011, 189,093 votes in 2010, and 212,936 votes in 2009.

Preceding Booker's landslide victory, political analysts anticipated low turnout resulting from both the timing of the election and the rainy weather. A selection of stories follows:

Turnout is low for U.S. Senate primary
Star Ledger//Matt Freidman
Few voters typically vote in party primaries, which are normally held in June. But since this is a special primary taking place in mid-August, even fewer people were expected to turn out. Add to that this morning's heavy rainfall from one end of the state to the other, and it could go even lower.

Heavy rains impact NJ Senate primary turnout
Philly.com//Teddy Schleifer, Tom Torok, and Andrew Seidman
South Jersey voters for the U.S. Senate turned out to the polls in small numbers Tuesday morning as thunderstorms brought torrential downpours and flash flooding. The workers said they were not expecting many voters - even if did not rain - for the August special election. They said many residents likely were at the Shore. "This is probably the lowest turnout I've ever worked," said Betsy Anderson, who has worked at the middle school for a decade, and elsewhere for 40 years.

New Jersey Senate Primary Election: Voters Choosing Candidates For Frank Lautenberg's Seat
The Associated Press//Angela Delli Santi
Turnout is expected to be exceptionally low in this unprecedented mid-August election,with many voters on vacation and heavy rain falling.

Turnout seemed on the mind of Booker as he voted blocks from his home Tuesday morning. "Polls don't vote, people vote," said the 44-year-old, who is serving his second term as mayor of Newark, the state's largest city. He is better known and has raised more money than three challengers, all of whom are experienced politicians but not well-known outside the areas they represent. Polls show Booker far outpacing U.S. Reps. Frank Pallone and Rush Holt and Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver.

New Jersey's Booker expected to dominate Senate primary election
Reuters//Ellen Wulfhorst
But with the primary being held amid the summer vacation season, voter turnout will have a significant impact on the actual results, said David Redlawsk, a professor of political science at Rutgers University and director of the Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling.

"In this election, it's dramatically difficult to figure out who a likely voter is. Half the state's down the shore," Redlawsk said.

In New Jersey, Short Senate Primary Race Ends With Final Appeals to Voters
New York Times//Raymond Hernandez
All sides are predicting that voter turnout will be remarkably low on Tuesday, when pollsopen at 6 a.m. and close at 8 p.m. The campaign itself has been short - just over two months - and it has unfolded in the heart of the summer when many voters have been vacationing. That has introduced a degree of volatility into the race, because only the most engaged voters are expected to show up at the polls.

What election? U.S. Senate Primary may draw low voter turnout
NJ.com//Mary-Ann Spoto & Bill Wichert
That, in a nutshell, is what is so special about a primary election smack in the middle of August. Unfortunately, the exercise in democracy is competing with family vacations, the rhythm of the surf, the smell of burgers on the grill and summer blockbusters on the big screen.

And, experts say, the date chosen by Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican, to fill the seat left vacant by the death of Sen. Frank Lautenberg, a Democrat, is likely to produce one of the lowest voter turnouts the state has ever seen - potentially rivaling the 2006 Senate primaries, when just 8.4 percent of registered voters made it to the polls.

Jackson: Voter turnout key in NJ Senate primary
NorthJersey.com//Herb Jackson
We're expecting extremely low turnout, and the advantage we think we have is the speaker hails from a county that has a high plurality of Democrats who turn out in primary elections," said Michael Makarski, a spokesman for Oliver, whose legislative district is in Essex County.

Of course, Booker's also from Essex, but Makarski says "grassroots energy" will make the difference.

PublicMind Poll Director Says Turnout Will be Key to Senate Primary
NJToday//Mike Schneider
Jenkins said it's been difficult to poll this race because it's uncertain how many people will cast their ballots. She said she's heard that between 200,000 and 300,000 registered Democrats may actually turn out, which she said is "significantly less" than a normal election.

Typically, analysts look toward the candidate who has the best field operations because they benefit, especially if the turnout is low. In the Democratic race, Jenkins said, "Cory Booker's operation seems to be the best, largely because I think he anticipated this opportunity coming and I think he was able to hit the ground running more readily than his opponents. And so in that case, I would expect his field operation to be better at actually turning out his supporters tomorrow. But we'll have to see."

Time to Vote: Primary election turnout expected to be fairly low
APP.com//Michael Symons
Turnout is expected to be low, perhaps along the lines of the roughly 420,000 who turned out for the noncompetitive June primary for governor - which equaled around 21 percent of Republicans and 11 percent of Democrats, or less than 9 percent if independent voters who can vote if they join a party at the polls are included in the calculation.

Low turnout, but not horribly low," said Monmouth University political scientist Patrick Murray. "There's enough excitement about the Booker candidacy, in particular, and even Pallone, Holt and Lonegan are good at turning out folks in their own backyard. There's going to be a big effort to turn out, so I don't think it's going to be abysmally low."

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