The GOP’s turnout problem

Last week, underwhelming Republican turnout in the Iowa caucuses fell short of expectations and hinted at a listless, uninspired party. Yesterday in New Hampshire, it happened again.

Going into the first GOP primary, there was ample talk about the expected record turnouts. But as the dust settled, we learned otherwise.

Turnout in the early Republican nominating contests could be a warning sign for Romney: the participation rate in Iowa barely exceeded the state’s 2008 mark, when many GOP voters were disaffected and depressed. New Hampshire officials projected record turnout in Tuesday’s primary, but exit polls showed about two-fifths of the voters were non-Republicans who crossed over to participate.

Remember, Republican turnout was supposed to soar in these early contests. GOP voters are reportedly eager, if not foaming-at-the-mouth desperate, to fight a crusade against President Obama, and they had plenty of high-profile candidates trying to stoke their enthusiasm. For that matter, Romney actually lives part of the year in New Hampshire. These voters had a chance to vote for their neighbor.

This, coupled with the boost from the so-called Tea Party “movement,” suggested energized Republicans would turn out in numbers that far exceeded the totals we saw in 2008, when GOP voters were depressed and all the excitement was on the other side of the aisle.

And yet, in two contests in a row, that hasn’t happened.

The Romney campaign almost certainly won’t care, at least not publicly, but behind the scenes, the turnout numbers in Iowa and New Hampshire should give party leaders pause.