Polls close as rain and no pizzazz dampened mood

Posted: May 18, 2010

The Democratic primaries for U.S. Senate and Pa. Governor remained tight in the first hour of vote-counting Tuesday, a day when even a dramatic campaign between incumbent U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter and U.S. Rep. Joe Sestak seemed unable to draw voters to the polls.

As expected, former U.S. Rep. Pat Toomey easily won the Republican primary for U.S. Senate, according to the Associated Press. And state Attorney General Tom Corbett won the Republican nomination for governor.

And the counting continued into the night, but earlier in the day, voters indicated the election lacked another key component - passion.

"People just don't know what the primary is," Francis Pierce, 65, said outside the Norristown Public Library. "People just don't know the names."

This in the county seat where Democratic gubernatorial contender Joseph Hoefel is a commissioner.

Pierce said that in headliner race - Arlen Specter v. Joe Sestak for the Democratic U.S. Senate nomination - she voted for Specter.

Like Specter, Pierce, former chair of Norristown GOP committee, has changed parties and has supported him for years.

Brenda Crowder-Queenan, 52, a nurse and a poll worker, said she voted for Specter because he's been a visible presence and good to Norristown over the years.

"I think he's made a difference for the working man," she said. "He's done a lot of the underdog."

As for the gubernatorial race, she said she voted for Hoeffel.

"He's very much a people person," she said.

Questions of politics vs. sincerity played into Stanley Rimmer's last-minute decision to vote for Sestak over Specter.

"I'm really concerned about whether the person elected is going to represent us," said Rimmer, 80, after voting at the Chalfont United Methodist Church in Bucks County's Chalfont Borough. "I had to think a long, long time on that. I thought I had my mind made up, and then I'd hear things that would change my mind."

Rimmer, a Democrat, said he had always been a Specter supporter even though Specter was a Republican, "because he always voted for the people. But now all of a sudden I'm changing my mind a little bit. He's been in there too long, and it's time to move on."

Interestingly, what turned him off was Specter's move to Rimmer's own party.

"It's weird that he supported many of the people in the Republican party, and now he's running as a Democrat," Rimmer said. "Sad to say, I've been a supporter of Specter's all along. Now it's time to change. I'm not sure of his allegiances."

Specter's age wasn't an issue, he said. "No, because I'm the same age," he said, laughing.

At the polling place at the Local 135 Union Hall on Norristown's Sandy Street, only 23 of the more than 1,600 registered voters in the precinct had cast a ballot by 10 a.m.

The longest line before then was at 7 a.m., when three voters were waiting for the poll to open, according to the local judge of elections, Yvonne Platts.

"This is extremely slow," said Cheryl Johnson, 53, a poll worker.

She hadn't voted yet and didn't know who was running for governor. As for the senate race, that was a little easier. "I'm going to vote for Specter because that's who [President] Obama asked me to vote for," she said.

Platts, 50, a community organizer, said the weather wasn't the only factor in the low turnout.

A lack of any local races – like school boards or commissioners – also tamped down the interest, she said.

"We don't have anything local driving it," Platts said.

At the Trevose Fire House in Bensalem, an intermittent flow of voters filed in to vote through the mid-morning. By 9:45 a.m. 26 of 1,100 voters had voted in the township's Upper 3 district. By 10:45 a.m., 80 had voted in the Upper 1 district. Residents of both precincts vote at the fire house.

"It's been very slow since 2008," said Fred Martin, 58, judge of elections in the in the Upper 3 district. "It's been going down drastically ever since."

Martin said he didn't see the fiery anti-incumbent sentiment in the district that some observers had expected.

"Wouldn't they be out in droves to cast their vote?" Martin said.

But Sal LaVecchia, of the Oakford section of the township, came out in the rain to vote, with the hope that the "gang in Washington" would be sent packing.

"I feel we need a change," said LaVecchia, 67, a registered Republican who teaches autistic children. "We need to get those old people out of the Congress and get fresh ideas."

In the general election, LaVecchia hopes a fresh face will replace Sen. Arlen Specter.

"Arlen has always been a Democrat in Republican clothes," said LaVecchia, 67, who teaches autistic children. "He's out for himself and I feel he's going to follow the way of the dinosaur."

Ed Allahand, also a registered Republican from Trevose, disagreed.

Allahand has no objection to Specter's switch to the Democratic Party and plans to vote for him if Specter wins the primary.

"He's done a lot for people over the last 25 years, said Allahand, 54, a realtor. "He voted for what he stood for. It doesn't matter what party he belongs to."

At the polling station in a day-care center near 9th and Greenwich Streets in South Philadelphia, near the Italian Market, Gloria Endres, 69, a retired Philadelphia School District teacher, said she didn't make up her mind on the tight Democratic Senate race until Monday night.

She said she's been wrestling with a decision for months, but finally decided to back Sestak because she believes he had the best chance of defeating the expected Republican challenger, Pat Toomey.

"Specter is 80 and old and the Republicans are going to pick on him big time," Endres said, standing under a tree in the rain before going in to vote around 11:30 a.m. "He would have an uphill battle."

Endres said she's been surprised at how strongly Sestak has risen in the polls in the run-up to today's election. "If he's that good gaining on Specter, he might have a chance in the general election," she said. But Endres added that if Specter wins the primary, she'll support him in the fall election. "It's a tough choice," she said.

Endres describes her politics as more center than left or right. But she said her decision this primary reflects her overall anxiety about the Tea Party movement and her unease with such a conservative candidate as Toomey.

She is concerned about what they would do to funding for such programs as public education and health-care for the elderly.

For governor, Endres was even more undecided, saying she made up her mind this morning. Of the candidates, she said "none are perfect," but she planned to vote for Dan Onorato, believing that State Sen. Anthony Williams "could never win past Philadelphia. So why bother?"

Despite the downpour outside, voter turnout at the Wayne Senior Center was "slow but steady," according to Kimberly Donches, 45, clerk of elections.

Democrats turned out in better numbers than Republicans in the morning, she said.

Gladys Corrodi, 71, of Wayne, said she voted for Sestak over Specter, noting she could not forget Specter's handling of the confirmation hearings for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and how he treated Anita Hill.

"You couldn't pay me to vote for him," she said. "I was so angry."

The retired high school teacher said Specter had done "some good things" for Pennsylvania but she thought it was time for a change. His age and health issues, she said, were not a factor in her decision.

George P. Birch 3d, the judge of elections for the West Bradford Township precinct voting at Highland Orchards, described turnout as steady and said many voters were expressing an anti-incumbent sentiment that he shared.

"They've all failed," he said of the politicians in power. "If they were in the private sector, they'd be fired."

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