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COLUMN

Candidates Burn Millions For Measly Turnout

Colin McEnroe

To Wit

4:10 PM PDT, August 17, 2012

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There's something wrong here.

Permit me to bore you with some numbers.

In 2010, Chris Murphy beat Sam Caligiuri 118,000 to 102,000 in Connecticut's 5th Congressional District. In 2008, a presidential year and therefore a better comparison to 2012, it was Murphy at 177,400 to Dave Cappiello's 117,000.

So let's imagine a closer race in the 5th this year. Let's say turnout's a little bit down from the first Obama election.

So somebody wins 145,000 to 135,000?

Maybe it's a bigger spread than that, but there's absolutely no way anybody's winning this year without getting 120,000 votes, right?

Now, how many votes did the two nominees pile up after the party primaries on Tuesday? Unofficially, fewer than 9,700 for the Republican Andrew Roraback and fewer than 12,700 for the Democrat Elizabeth Esty.

Esty campaigned for 16 months to get those 12,700 votes. Roraback spent 10 months getting those 9,700. They now have about 10 weeks to get the other 110,000 votes they need to actually win the election.

But wait. It gets stupider.

The measly handful of votes they got on Tuesday — those were the easy ones. Voters in one's own party usually come in four or five predictable ice cream flavors. Now, Esty and Roraback will be digging their scoops in the unfathomable freezer compartment of Connecticut's unaffiliated voters. These people are much harder to reach and teach. They've been fast-forwarding through those commercials all spring and summer.

I'm not finished.

The total amount spent on the 5th District primary season was almost certainly more than $10 million, all of it squandered on fewer collective voters than it would take to fill the Yale Bowl to capacity.

You think there's a lot more money lying around in the 5th? No. For the general election, each side will need a lot of help from its national congressional campaign committee and from super PACs and bundlers. If you wanted to design a system that would bring a lot of out-of-state interests buzzing around our politics like flies on, um, honey, you couldn't do a better job.

The primary season is too long.

Part of the problem is our freedom. In England, which is a hereditary tyranny based on voodoo and meaningless acts of violence, they somehow limit election seasons to four weeks with no commercials.

By contrast, Linda McMahon aired — real number —1,587 commercials from Jan. 1 to Aug. 6. I don't know about you, but I'm pretty sure I saw every single one of them, and now I want to kill someone.

Because we are free, you can't tell anybody how to campaign. Any time we try to make sensible rules, the Supreme Court tells us to shut up and that ConocoPhillips is a person.

What can we do?

We should probably move our primary.

My suggestion would be to move it to the Republic of Seychelles, where it wouldn't bother anyone.

My second choice is to move it to June, which would maybe boost turnout, elongate the general election cycle and shorten the primary season.

There are signs of voter fatigue.

It looks like the Democrats lost 50,000 primary voters from 2010 to 2012. Republicans lost maybe 6,000. (Connecticut Republicans are much more conscientious and steady about voting. Nobody knows why this is. It could be their smaller numbers. There are only 200 Greater Bamboo Lemurs in the world, so everything they do seems a little more significant, you know?)

It would also be great if we instituted an informal — and therefore constitutional — shaming process against anyone whose primary run goes longer than one month. So if the primary gets moved to June 17, not a peep out of you before May 17. Break the rule and we treat you like someone who's smoking while pregnant. You'll be booed at parades.

Would that be long enough? One could argue that it takes longer than a month for all of us to grasp that Lisa Wilson-Foley is a terrible politician, that Dan Roberti is a sock puppet, that Mark Greenberg is a cranially under-powered vulgarian, that Chris Donovan is surrounded by the cast of "Guys and Dolls."

Maybe.

I'd be willing to take my chances.

Colin McEnroe appears from 1 to 2 p.m. weekdays on WNPR-FM (90.5) and blogs at http://courantblogs.com/colin-mcenroe/. He can be reached at Colin@wnpr.org.