The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

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May 17, 2014

Primary turnout predictions mixed

EBENSBURG — Those out there thinking of skipping Tuesday’s primary election can’t look to weather as a reason.

And to say the races, at least on the Democratic ticket for governor and lieutenant governor, lack interest just isn’t so.

Heath Long, chairman of the Cambria County Democratic Party, thinks local voters will buck statewide predictions of 25 percent voter turnout.

“We had over 300 people at our dinner last night,” Long said Friday of the committee’s last big push to get out the vote.

“I’m expecting 40 percent of the voters will come out,” he said.

There are interesting races for the region’s two congressional seats, and the race for governor and lieutenant governor will motivate people to come to the polls, Long said.

“Plus we have a favorite son,” Long said of former U.S. Rep. Mark Critz, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor.

Jim Orr, chairman of the Cambria County Republican Committee, could not be reached for comment Friday.

The weather forecast for Tuesday provides another good reason to get outside and head to the polls.

AccuWeather is looking for election day to be partly sunny and dry with temperatures in the high 60s and low 70s.

“It looks like we can’t use the weather as an excuse,” said meteorologist Tom Kines.

A spring 2013 projection that voter turnout would be about 30 percent has left Shirley Crowl, Cambria County director of elections, hesitant to predict the response to the polls for Tuesday.

The voter turnout last spring was 18 percent in Cambria County.

“I don’t have a clue,” said Crowl. “I’m hoping we’ll have at least 25 percent.”

Tina Pritz, Somerset County director of elections, made a similar projection.

“I’m going to say 25 percent. If we hit that, I will be very happy,” Pritz said. “In the primary, it’s generally lower.”

A sign of little voter interest is the number of absentee ballots Somerset County voters have sought this year, she said.

The number barely reached 500.

In past primaries, the number averaged between 600 and 1,000, Pritz said.

Locally, the big races are among candidates seeking their party’s nomination for seats in the state House of Representatives.

Democratic incumbent Bryan Barbin of Johnstown is running unopposed in the primary for the 71st district.

Two Republicans are asking voters to put their names on the ballot to run against Barbin in the fall.

Jim Rigby of Ferndale has been a formidable opponent of Barbin in the past and came within a few hundred votes of unseating him in 2010.

Also seeking the GOP nomination is Mark Amsdell of Johnstown, who is making his first attempt for an elected seat.

The statewide reapportionment that goes into effect this year resulted in profound changes to the 72nd and 73rd districts.

The retirement of longtime Rep. Gary Haluska, D-Patton, has incumbent Frank Burns, D-East Taylor Township, seeking the party nod.

Also on the Democratic ballot is Martin Westrick, a political newcomer from Patton.

On the Republican side, efforts by Philip Rice of Ebensburg to capture the party nod are being challenged by Randall “R.J.” Wilson of Glasgow.

Wilson ran an unsuccessful race against Haluska in 2012.

The new 73rd district contains a small part of Cambria County, but is largely Clearfield County.

Incumbent Republican Tommy Sankey of Clearfield is running unopposed for his party’s nomination.

On the Democratic ballot is Matt Barczak of Northern Cambria.

Kathy Mellott is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/kathymellotttd.

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