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More GOP votes cast than Democrats for first time in Georgia
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ATLANTA (AP) - Georgia voters cast more Republican than Democratic ballots in Tuesday's primary for the first time in state history, a difference of 285,000 votes.

GOP ballots outpaced Democratic ones by a margin of about 3-to-2, according to unofficial returns. (63 percent to 37 percent). Overall, about 1.1 million Georgians - or 22 percent of active registered voters - cast ballots in the gubernatorial contest, which drew the most votes, according to unofficial returns.

In the past four election cycles, that compares to a low of 21 percent in 2006, when outgoing Gov. Sonny Perdue was re-elected, and a high of 35 percent in 2004.

Tuesday's turnout matched 2008, when turnout was 22 percent in the general primary. That race came more than five months after the presidential primary, which had a much better showing of 45 percent.

The numbers point to trouble for Democrats this fall, with more Republican than Democratic voters among the hard core, said Georgia State University poltiical science professor Steve Anthony.

"That's very low," said Anthony. "It's continuing a trend in this state that most voters just don't care about the primary. They see it as an interparty fight."

But for those who were watching, the drama may have driven them to the polls. Nearly 680,000 Republican ballots were cast- compared to nearly 395,000 Democratic ballots - voted on Tuesday.

In the GOP scramble, candidates did well in their own backyards, as expected. Voters tend to rally around candidates from their corner of the state, said University of Georgia political science professor Charles Bullock.

"It's friends and neighbors voting," he said. "You figure because you're from the same part of the state, you probably share some values or that getting them elected would be good for your area."

High-profile endorsements from ex-Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, who supported Karen Handel, and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who supported Nathan Deal, upped the ante in the Republican race. The Palin effect helped put Handel over the top, with nearly 232,000 votes and strong support across metro Atlanta, where the majority of voters live.

"Palin's endorsement coincides with when Handel began to make her move," said University of Georgia political science professor Charles Bullock. "Gingrich's endorsement also helped, but Palin's a rock star. I think hers carries more weight."

On the Democratic side, Barnes, seen all along as the Democratic nominee, dominated the state with nearly 259,000 votes and was likely bolstered by low voter turnout overall, and black voter turnout in particular.

"Historically, the more peopel that turn out, the more voters you have that are not as involved, tuned in, or up to date on the issues," Anthony said. "They would be inclined not to go with a perceived frontruner."

Barnes was also endorsed by several prominent black leaders. Demographic data on the primary election was not immediately available from the Secretary of State's Office, but historically, blacks make up about a third of registered voters in Georgia and about half the voters in the Democratic primary.

His closest opponent, Attorney General Thurbert Baker, sought to become the state's first black governor. But he failed to shore up black support for his candidacy.

"Roy Barnes was far and away the choice of the party leadership and the rank and file, which is largely African-American," said Clark Atlanta University professor William Boone. "There was never any real expectation that Thurbert Baker was going to win."

What Tuesday's turnout will mean for November is not yet clear. An important factor for victory on either side are the independent voters who did not cast ballots in the primary. Democrats will have to seize more of the independent vote than Republicans if they hope to return to power this fall, Anthony said.

Unity will be key to Republican victory, Boone said.

"Can they bring that rural-urban split together?" Boone said. "If they can do that, they suceed. I think it's going to be tough for the Democrats here."

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