Reading the …you’ll pardon the expression … tea leaves of elections is often an imprecise practice. But primaries just concluded at home and nationally seem a bit more understandable.

Where I live, in Southwest Oregon, there was almost no evidence of the national anti-incumbent feeling in voters. We soundly returned a county commissioner to office; a Democrat in a Republican county no less. We elected an assessor, a 30+year employee of the office. Not precisely an incumbent but close. We didn’t throw any office holder into the street as happened elsewhere. There was obviously no significant groundswell to “throw the bastards out.”

There certainly was nationally. Not hard to see coming but the intensity … and the careful selection … were. Voters didn’t succumb to slaughter; they used a scalpel. Witness Pennsylvania where a 30-year Republican senator in a Democratic sheepskin was tossed. But a few miles away, in an open seat congressional contest in the same state, a Democrat won in a traditionally Republican district that went strongly for John McCain in 2008. Electoral surgery at it’s best.

The most noise, of course, was in Kentucky where a lot of the national media credited the Tea Party with Dr. Rand Paul’s victory in the GOP senatorial contest. My take? Not so much.

Paul, one of six in the Republican primary, got 58% of 353,000 votes; about 205,000. Given his desire to abolish the IRS, the Dept. of Education, opposition to the American With Disabilities Act, going back to the gold standard and wiping out the 17th amendment to the Constitution, yes, he probably got some hardcore Tea Party support that could have gone elsewhere.

But consider: in the Kentucky Democrat primary, 520,000 votes were cast for five candidates: about a third more than for all Republicans. The winner, almost statistically tied with the runner up, got more votes than Paul. So did the guy who was second. The two of them received more than all six Republicans.

So what? Well, in November, will many of those Republican voters who selected someone besides Paul change their minds and support him and his goals six months hence? Doubtful. And Democrat voters: will a lot of them decide in November to support Paul and his, shall we say, “unique” positions? Again, doubtful. Voting moderates and progressives in both parties won’t go for Paul.

So, looks like Democrats may pick up a new GOP senate seat. And if there’s any thanks, it should go to … the Tea Party. That’s what I mean by looking closely at candidates and numbers, where numbers came from, how many and who’ll be there in November. Most often, primary elections don’t tell you much. In Kentucky, I think they did.

Now, back to my area, Douglas County, Oregon. While the national mood … and mine … was to get rid of some incumbents, consider our legislative races: Reps. Prozanski 97%; Krieger 98%; Hanna 99%; Freeman 99%. “House cleaning,” you say? This is why there is … and will continue to be …an incumbency advantage no matter the noise in our streets. “My guy’s the good guy but your guy’s the bad guy.” You’ll never get ‘em; even with term limits.

I’m told our local voter turnout of 47% is pretty good. Then, given all the fuss and feathers around here the last few months, with people opposing or protesting this-that-and-the-other, why did more than half of my neighbors ignore the election? Given that media attention to the few and the loud, wouldn’t you expect more ballots? I did.

Now, here’s a kicker: three local Tea Party sympathizers, who’ve chastised me for my low opinion of the group, didn’t mail in their own ballots! Not one. “Waste of time,” sums up their responses. Now that’s “courage of your convictions.”

There’s a widely held but badly mistaken perception that primary elections aren’t important. That’s dead wrong! Where do the names on the November ballot come from? If the aforementioned legislative incumbents hadn’t won Tuesday, they would be gone. Now.

My take? I’m disappointed. Better turnout than nationally but I don’t think 47% is all that good regardless of past numbers. We didn’t get our right to vote easily. And we haven’t kept it without great cost. There’s a ballot with your name on it. But more than that, it’s been preserved by a lot other people who took a bullet with their name on it.

As you walk down the streets in your hometown this week or go about your shopping or even sit in church, imagine that more than one out of every two people you see didn’t vote. That’ll put a face on it for you!

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