Presidential Effect on Local Races

By Matt Porter

November 8, 2012 Updated Nov 8, 2012 at 10:36 AM EST

Vestal, NY (WBNG Binghamton) As former chairperson of the Broome Democratic Party, Gene Burns has lived local politics most of his life.

He's seen campaigns come and go.

And knows how the best ones win.

"Working their networks, they go to their social clubs, they go to church, they go to school with their children," said Burns, "That's the recipe for a successful local candidate."

But in presidential years, the extra spotlight can change the typical game plan of local campaigns.

Burns said the higher turnout can be good or bad depending on who gets more out to vote.

"The presidential year is normally when you have the highest turn out, and hopefully you have your highest turnout of your parties supporters," he said.

Getting out the vote isn't hard.

Broome County Board of Elections Commissioner Karen Davis said she's overseen 10,000 new registrations in the last three weeks.

"It's like a freight train coming at you," she said.

She expected at least 80,000 voters to cast a ballot in Broome County.

"Presidential election years will bring 75 percent of the voters out, at least 75, I figure it's going to be in that area," said Davis, "Where in off-year elections we're lucky if we can get to 40."

Experts say the excitement in participating in a national election gets people out.

People like Paul Cirba who said he will cast a vote for Mitt Romney despite his unlikely chances of winning in New York.

"Even though I'm in a state that's heavily democratic, 2 to 1," said Cirba, "I'm still gonna vote and and I'll vote for Romney."

On the other hand, Dee Cheney from Pennsylvania will be voting for the other side.

"We're voting for President Obama and we made up our mind long time ago to vote for him," said Cheney.

But when asked about the smaller local races, neither Cirba or Cheney were as excited.

"Not a great deal, I'm probably not going to vote for the county executive because I don't think that should be a popularity contest," said Cirba.

"I've paid attention only a little bit," said Cheney, "That's probably not our main focus this year because it's a presidential election."

Election expert and Binghamton University political science professor John McNulty said the uncertainty of presidential voters challenge local campaigns.

"They can't just turn out their base like they can in a low turnout election," said McNulty, "In a high turnout election, you have to reach people who are not easy to reach."

Also, Gene Burns said money from national advertising can disrupt local races. Taking minutes away from local races.

And more advertising doesn't necessarily mean more votes.

"The noise level of all of the unattributed advertisements, some of them just close their ears and eyes to everything, and they don't participate," said Burns.

The elections this year topped more than $6 billion when including everything including spending by outside groups. That's the most ever.

Whether or not the outside money trickles down to smaller, more local campaigns is still up for debate according the the Institute for Money and Politics.

They have seen an increase in spending in 18 states but their data is incomplete.