What if they held an election and no one came?
That could happen Tuesday, when five states will hold the first presidential primaries since a daunting delegate lead and Rick Santorum’s exit from the race made Mitt Romney the presumptive Republican nominee. For voters in Pennsylvania, New York, Delaware, Rhode Island and Connecticut, the put-a-fork-in-it race at the top of the ticket isn’t much of a draw.
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Except that history shows there’s a group of hardcore voters who show up even when the presidential primary has been settled. George Mason University associate professor Michael McDonald, who specializes in turnout, calls them “expressive voters.’’ For a candidate like Romney, viewed in some Republican circles as a consolation prize in an election year in which stronger and more conservative politicians took a pass, Tuesday’s turnout could help “express’’ the enthusiasm gap, if it exists.
“If Romney does still have a problem with Republicans, it might show up in the turnout levels on Tuesday,’’ McDonald said. “It will be interesting to see how many people still want to express their support since he became the nominee.’’
To be sure, turnout in presidential primaries is not completely fueled by the top of the ticket. Competitive state and local races can also have an impact. McDonald also cautioned that linking turnout to the presumptive presidential nominee doesn’t take into account that some voters, albeit a minority, are choosing one of his rivals.