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Michigan Primary Draws Out Some Detroit Voters But Little GOP Support

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DETROIT -- The opportunity to cast a vote for Barack Obama and perhaps create a little mischief for Republican candidates drew some Detroiters to Michigan's presidential primary on Tuesday.

The GOP race, while closely watched across the state, offered the majority of Detroit voters little incentive to visit the polls. City residents tend to vote overwhelmingly Democratic. Only 5,235 Detroiters cast ballots for Republicans in the 2008 presidential primary.

President Obama's name is on the ballot this year, although Michigan Democrats have opted to actually choose their candidate through a statewide caucus on May 5. And the president's name was enough to draw some Democrats out to vote. Daniel Baxter, director of the Department of Elections, has said he expects a 10 to 12 percent voter turnout overall -- about 55,000 people.

At one polling location -- the lobby of Sheridan Place, a high-rise apartment on Jefferson Avenue near Detroit's riverfront -- head poll worker Margaret Hightower told The Huffington Post that voter turnout was fairly low Tuesday morning. At 11 a.m., only 24 people had stopped to cast a vote.

"Usually by this time, we have around 100," Hightower said. "I think one of the reasons is people have to declare their party and they're not happy with that, so they just don't come."

Under new state rules, Michigan voters must declare a party when choosing a ballot in the primary, and that decision will be a matter of public record for the next 22 months.

In the 2008 presidential primary, the Sheridan Place precinct saw 49 votes for Republican candidates. That's a small number, but it's more Republican votes than any other Detroit precinct.

Bob Koenig, a 62-year-old lawyer, said he wasn't surprised to hear his precinct was the reddest in the city. He observed that the riverfront locale is a very affluent area and that many of his neighbors vote Republican.

Koenig said he supports President Obama and thinks it's important to vote even though the Democratic nomination is uncontested.

"I think it's important that there be some vote tallies for Obama," he said. "I don't think the robocalls asking for me to vote for [Rick] Santorum are a constructive way for me to spend my vote."

Although he supports Obama's bid to keep the White House, Koenig admitted to having mixed feelings about the president's record. He favored the auto industry bailout, but he said he's disappointed by Obama's decision to take super PAC money and his failure to close the Guantanamo Bay detention camp in Cuba.

Republican Todd Ridley, a 38-year-old graphic designer, also has strong feelings about the auto bailout. He said he was voting for Rick Santorum because he wants Mitt Romney to lose in Michigan.

"I think he has a good chance of losing because he wanted us to go bankrupt for the automobile bailout," Ridley said of Romney. "I think his whole idea that private investors were going to help out Chrysler is bogus, and I think he is absolutely ridiculous."

Indeed, Ridley did not have kind words for any of the GOP's 2012 presidential candidates.

"They're all idiots, absolutely," he said. "I think since the early '80s, there's been a huge shift to religion and the exclusion of people."

Ridley said that he'll be voting for Obama in November and that his primary vote for Santorum was a protest vote. "I always vote. I figured I was going to make my vote count," he said.

While the Sheridan Place voting booths were mostly empty on Tuesday morning, a slight crowd gathered at a polling place in Detroit's 12th Police Precinct Station on Seven Mile Road near Woodward Ave.

In the 2008 general election, that precinct had the highest voter turnout in the city with 77.2 percent. On Tuesday, however, the numbers were significantly smaller: Only 38 people had voted by 12:30 p.m.

Poll worker P.J. Foster wouldn't compare the noon numbers with those of any previous election, but said she expected about 200 voters by the end of the day. Voters appeared to be mostly Obama supporters and undercover Democrats.

Richard Maddox, a 77-year-old retiree, said he came out to show his support for the president. He said he always votes and added that his opinions about Obama haven't changed since the last election.

"He's more for the issues I'm concerned about. I think he's trying to fix the economy and also health care," Maddox said.

Rollin Norris, 77, voted for Santorum. He said although he personally believes Romney is a more intelligent and competent candidate, the prospect of a Republican in the White House frightens him.

"I think there's something wrong today with a Republican getting elected because they're so out of touch with the way things are. The only thing I think is saving the country is a Democratic president with the veto."

Norris hopes voting for "his man Santorum" will help to swing the general election for Obama.

"If Santorum wins Michigan, Santorum and Romney are going to slug it out. More and more money is going to be spent," he explained. "And the more they slug it out, the more independents are going to look at the Republicans and decide not to vote for them in November."

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