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Election 2012 Moves On, And America Yawns

Tuesday was an exciting night for Mitt Romney in New Hampshire. In mid-Ohio, not so much.

By about 9 a.m. Wednesday, the bankruptcy of a local barbecue restaurant chain was one of several stories ranked higher in the "most popular stories" list on The Columbus Dispatch's website than anything coming out of the GOP primary.

For many people, the election so far just hasn't been that interesting — and it might be even less so if Romney again rakes in the chips in South Carolina next week, adding to the perception that his nomination is virtually a done deal.

Will Burt, a retired 68-year-old state water resources engineer from Lakewood, Colo., is a registered Republican. He paid close attention to Iowa, but didn't catch much of the New Hampshire coverage.

"It went by too fast," he says. "Goodness knows we have enough candidates, but we don't have enough good ones."

Burt supports Jon Huntsman, but without much conviction. He's also less than sanguine about the former Utah governor, who is "too moderate for many Republicans" to have a real shot at the nomination.

'Lesser Of Evils'

By contrast, Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann turned Burt off. He considers Romney as "the lesser of evils."

Susan Gayhart stations herself outside the polls at a fire station in Canaan, N.H., on the morning of the primary.
Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images
Susan Gayhart stations herself outside the polls at a fire station in Canaan, N.H., on the morning of the primary.

That phrase — the "lesser of evils" — is how Jonathan Turley, a law professor and political commentator at George Washington University Law School, describes the tactics of Republicans and Democrats.

He says they're both having "increasingly insular conversations amongst themselves" and presenting the rest of the country with a fait accompli.

"The assumption of both parties is that they will secure their hardcore center and leave the majority of the voters disgruntled and having to choose between the lesser of evils," Turley says.

That's backed up by data from the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, which released a survey earlier this week showing that Republicans just weren't that into their candidates.

Barely half of those surveyed — 51 percent — said the field of Republican candidates was "good or excellent," while a whopping 44 percent rated the candidates as only "fair or poor."

It's hard to gauge just how much a lack of enthusiasm about the candidates translates to disinterest in the campaign. Another Pew survey, however, showed that 37 percent of respondents think the 2012 campaign is getting too much coverage, while about 39 percent thought news organizations were giving it just the right amount of coverage.

That apparent ambivalence might explain why election stories were off the radar at the Dispatch, and a story about Twinkies maker Hostess Brands filing for bankruptcy protection beat out the story on the primary race on CNN.

Voters Just Want To Have Fun

The level of interest could drop off further if Romney quickly clinches the nomination, says Susan Drucker, a professor of political science at Hofstra University.

"I think the problem is that there's already the appearance of a hands-down winner," she says. "And what fun is that?"

"We like to be entertained by our news. We like to be entertained by our election cycles and as Romney looks increasingly as if he's just wrapping things up, the fun is taken out of the process," Drucker says.

Without the fun factor, Romney could find himself searching for ways to stay engaged with voters, she says.

"He would have to stay on message against a sitting president for a very long time and that's not an easy thing to do," Drucker said.

She calls Ron Paul a wild card, though.

"Paul may keep things interesting in his quest to get his message out and maybe to have a big speech at the convention," Drucker says.

Paul's unconventional views appeal strongly to a maverick wing of the party, people like Matthew Hoffman, a 26-year-old student at Duquesne University.

"I'm tired of having to choose between two mediocre candidates," he says. "But with Ron Paul, we have a real chance to change things."

He says it's "Paul or nothing. I wouldn't even consider voting for Romney because he's just more of the same."

Tuesday night, Hoffman watched the New Hampshire coverage "until it became clear that Romney had won. Then I just switched it off."

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