By SUSAN HAIGH
HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) _ Connecticut voters headed to the polls in a slow trickle on Tuesday for a summertime primary expected to have a low turnout despite a high national profile race featuring four candidates vying for an open U.S. Senate seat.
About 7 to 8 percent of the state’s 1.1 million registered Democrats and Republicans had voted by midday in hotly contested races for the Senate and U.S. House of Representatives, said Av Harris, a spokesman for Secretary of the State Denise Merrill. Unaffiliated voters couldn’t cast ballots because of state party rules.
“We are on track for about a 25 to 30 percent voter turnout today,” Harris said. “That’s about what we got for the primary two years ago.”
Voters on Tuesday criticized negative advertising and the primaries being held during the summer vacation season, when they used to be in September.
“It seems like there’s a lot of negative advertising earlier than usual,” said Wethersfield voter Dave Boccaccio, 46, a Republican who runs an insurance agency. “It seems like every ad has candidates going after each other.”
For the second time in two years, Connecticut has an open seat for the U.S. Senate. Sen. Joe Lieberman, an independent, is retiring at the end of the year. Back in 2010, former Democratic Sen. Christopher Dodd decided not to run for re-election.
Wealthy ex-wrestling executive Linda McMahon is again seeking the Republican nomination and redemption for her loss in 2010 to Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal after spending $50 million. Although she won the party’s endorsement at the state convention earlier this year, she is being challenged by former U.S. Rep. Christopher Shays, a moderate Republican who argues that McMahon is unqualified for the job. Meanwhile, McMahon accuses Shays of being a career politician.
Jeanne Richer voted at the Manchester senior citizen center Tuesday morning, saying her biggest concern was the economy. She voted for McMahon, who also was her favorite in 2010.
“She’s not a true politician or a lawyer,” she said, adding that the legislature “is full of lawyers and that’s not good.”
Lieberman’s decision not to run for another term has had a ripple effect throughout state politics. It prompted U.S. Rep. Chris Murphy to run for the Senate. Murphy, the Democratic Party’s endorsed candidate, is facing a primary challenge from former Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz.
Meanwhile, Murphy’s exit from the 5th Congressional District seat, which he has held since 2007, has led to two close primaries that have been shadowed by two unrelated federal investigations. The state’s Democratic House speaker and party-endorsed candidate, Chris Donovan, is facing challenges from former state Rep. Elizabeth Esty and political newcomer Daniel Roberti.
Donovan’s former campaign finance manager and campaign manager were both recently arrested and charged with conspiring with others to hide the source of $27,500 in political contributions to his congressional campaign. While Donovan has denied any knowledge of the alleged scheme and has not been charged with any crimes, some of his rivals have called on him to get out of the race.
On the Republican side of the 5th District race, state Sen. Andrew Roraback, R-Kent, is being challenged by businessman Mark Greenberg, businesswoman Lisa Wilson-Foley and U.S. Navy veteran Justin Bernier.
In June, Wilson-Foley’s husband, Brian Foley, confirmed that a federal grand jury was looking into consulting work that former Republican Gov. John G. Rowland performed for his nursing home company. The former governor was paid $5,000 a month for his services while he also was a volunteer for Wilson-Foley’s campaign. He has since stepped down as a volunteer.
Besides the Senate and the 5th District, there is a Republican primary in the 2nd Congressional District between Daria Novak of Madison, founder of a business management training and consulting firm, and Paul Formica, the first selectman of East Lyme and a restaurant owner. The winner will face Democratic Rep. Joe Courtney in November.
There are also primaries for 15 legislative seats, a probate judge and two registrars of voters.
Dave Clark, a 46-year-old Republican from Wethersfield, believed it was too early for a high amount of interest in the Connecticut political races.
“I think people are more focused on the presidential election,” he said.
Associated Press writers Dave Collins in Wethersfield and Stephen Singer in Manchester contributed to this report.
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)