S.C. Democrats expect voter turnout in their presidential primary Saturday to be about half the record achieved by Republicans a week earlier.
Between 350,000 and 400,000 ballots will be cast, state Democratic Party chairman Jaime Harrison predicted Thursday.
Harrison expects the turnout will be “in between” the voting levels in previous Democratic primaries in 2004 and 2008, contests that featured multiple candidates.
If 400,000 votes are cast, that would mean about one out of every eight registered voters in the state goes to the polls.
In the Republican contest last weekend, 742,715 ballots were cast. That was one in every four registered voters.
The GOP record came after an often combative showdown among six candidates. In contrast, the Democrats’ match between former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont has been much less strident and the outcome much less uncertain, analysts said.
“It’s a different kind of race in tenor,” University of South Carolina political analyst Robert Oldendick said. “It’s been more civil, more respectful and all indications are that it won’t be that close.”
Clinton is aiming for a decisive victory, which several polls suggest she will win. Sanders is hoping for a showing that can provide him momentum in upcoming March primaries and caucuses, analysts said.
Clinton’s strength is among African-Americans voters, expected to cast at least half — and, possibly, two-thirds — of S.C. ballots. Still, enthusiasm for Clinton appears tepid in some aspects, Oldendick said.
Sanders has attracted larger crowds and a cult-like following among some younger supporters. However, as the S.C. primary has neared, he has spent more time campaigning in other states where he has a better chance of winning.
The 36,890 absentee ballots cast by midday Thursday in the Democratic contest total about 10 percent of the expected turnout.
With nearly 6,000 cast, Richland County — a traditional Democratic hotbed — had the highest total of absentee ballots cast among the state’s 46 counties, according to the State Election Commission. Just more than 1,200 absentee ballots have been cast in neighboring Lexington County, traditionally Republican.
Like the Republicans, the Democrats’ absentee total already tops their primary’s previous high, set in 2008. But it is well short of the almost 60,000 absentee votes cast in the GOP contest last weekend.
The combined total of Democratic and Republican absentee ballots seems likely to end up around 100,000, nearly triple the previous high of 35,595, cast in both primaries in 2008.
Tim Flach: 803-771-8483
SC Democratic primary
Voter turnout in recent Democratic presidential primaries in South Carolina:
Caucuses were held in 2000. No primary was held in 2012. SOURCES: S.C. Democratic Party and State Election Commission