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Voters Go to Polls to Pick U.S. Senate Nominees, Decide Stadium Initiative

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RALEIGH (AP) — North Carolina voters went to the polls today to pick nominees for U.S. Senate, decide a baseball stadium referendum in the Triad and choose candidates for legislative races in the November election.

Turnout was low across much of North Carolina, but not in Guilford and Forsyth counties, where residents were voting on a proposed food tax to finance two-thirds of a $210 million baseball stadium.

Workers at polling places in the two counties reported big crowds and turnout well above the usual trickle of primary election voters. Recent polls suggest today's election will be close.

The big turnout for the stadium initiative was the exception to the rule, though. Three-fourths of North Carolina's registered voters likely will skip today's statewide primary, predicted Gary Bartlett, executive secretary and director of the State Board of Elections.

Bartlett said turnout for North Carolina's primary has waned since the 1970s and 1980s.

He said Democrats can expect a turnout ranging from 25 percent to 30 percent and Republicans, 20 percent to 25 percent. Since 1982, the highest Democratic turnout was 40 percent in 1984, while Republicans' best turnout was 26 percent in 1986, said Bartlett.

Every vote counts when turnout is low, he said. ``Usually in low-turnout races, we have closer elections and it makes every person's vote increasingly more important,'' Bartlett said.

Turnout may play a role in the seven-candidate Democratic Senate primary, with a low turnout possibly aiding D.G. Martin, who has devoted his campaign to wooing Democrat loyalists. His chief rival, John Edwards, might profit from a higher turnout because his television ad blitz reaches out to voters outside the party rank-and-file.

Either Martin, 57, or Edwards, 44, will likely oppose incumbent Republican Sen. Lauch Faircloth in November. Faircloth faced light opposition in the GOP primary from two political unknowns.

The winner needs 40 percent of the primary vote to avoid a runoff with the second-place finisher. A runoff would be held June 2.

Besides the high-profile Democratic Senate race, voters had a number of other issues to decide today.

In Forsyth and Guilford counties voters were casting ballots on a prepared food tax proposed to help build a $210 million major league baseball stadium.

An acrimonious race between incumbent state Rep. Cindy Watson of Duplin County, who has worked for tighter controls on hog operations, and a challenger backed by the hog industry, Johnny Manning, enlivened the 36 contested General Assembly races.

Appeals court Judge Joe John Sr. and Jim Martin were vying for the Democratic nomination for a Supreme Court seat. The winner faces Republican Mark Martin in November.

Races for sheriff, county commissioner and other local offices also were on the ballot.

Congressional primaries have been postponed until Sept. 15 because of a federal court order that election districts be redrawn.