ALEXANDRIA, Louisiana (Reuters) - The primary elections have been called the most gripping in recent years but not in the Deep South state of Louisiana where parties struggled to motivate voters on Saturday.
In Alexandria, a city in the center of the state, voting officials stood idle at several polling stations in black or racially mixed neighborhoods waiting for people to show up.
Hundreds of people crowded a local gymnasium for a basketball game while the voting station in the lobby had seen only 35 voters by mid-morning.
Republicans lost much of their interest after former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney pulled out of the race on Thursday, leaving Sen. John McCain virtually certain to be the party nominee, analysts and voters said.
Democratic turnout in Louisiana has been shrinking for years and the trend seemed likely to continue despite the national interest in the race between Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, analysts said.
Voters in the separate primaries were taking part in the process to choose the Republican and Democratic nominees to contest November’s election to succeed President George W. Bush, a Republican.
Commentators said turnout in Louisiana was likely to be between 10 and 15 percent of the electorate at best. Even so, the vote mattered especially for Clinton and Obama because 66 delegates to the National Convention were at stake and the candidates were in a close race to amass the 2,025 needed to win the nomination.
“People will have something really important to do like rearranging their sock drawer. People are going to find anything to do that’s more important than voting,” said Bernie Pinsonat, a pollster with Southern Media and Opinion, based in Baton Rouge.
Polling commissioner Ella Creely, sitting in an empty voting station, said: “People don’t understand the importance of this (primary) election. They are mainly concerned about the one in November. The ones who have voted are the same old faithful ones.”
Obama was expected to win the Democratic primary with strong support among blacks, who make up around 45 percent of registered Democrats. McCain was forecast to take the Republican contest.
New Orleans residents said Obama generated buzz when he campaigned there on Thursday. Former president Bill Clinton came to the state on Friday for his wife.
Editing by Alan Elsner