GOP Got a Boost from Unaffiliated Primary Voters ; Political Scene

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At first glance, it would appear that voter turnout in last Tuesday's presidential primary was stronger for Republicans than Democrats. After all, roughly two-thirds of the 22,598 ballots cast for presidential candidates were cast with a Republican ballot.

But numbers provided by the secretary of state's office show that the numbers of people who entered polling locations as registered Democrats or Republicans were almost dead even.

According to those figures -- which include results from 34 of 39 cities and towns -- 6,903 were registered Democrats before they voted, and 6,900 were registered Republicans.

Another 7,813 were unaffiliated before they asked for either a Republican or a Democratic ballot.

The numbers do not include results for Exeter, Hopkinton, Jamestown, Narragansett and West Greenwich, which were still entering numbers into a statewide database, said Chris Barnett, spokesman for Secretary of State A. Ralph Mollis.

Of course, with five presidential candidates on the Republican ballot, it makes sense that most people who were unaffiliated going into their polling place were going to ask for a Republican ballot. And so they did. In all, 14,525 people voted for presidential candidates in the Republican primary and 8,025 in the Democratic primary, for which President Obama was the only listed candidate.

The preliminary results also suggest that turnout was stronger among women than men, though that may be partly because the data suggest that more women are registered to vote, Barnett said.

Holding the line on student loans

Election year has brought a harmonic convergence of new presidential initiatives with long-standing projects of Rhode Island's Democratic senators.

First on the map was Obama's high-octane drive for a vote on a minimum tax on the rich, better known as "the Buffett Rule." Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse offered legislation last year to impose such a tax, so when Mr. Obama put it at the center of an extraordinary publicity campaign, the senator had the standing to offer a fresh version.

No matter that the bill died a predictable death this month on a near-party line parliamentary vote. Whitehouse has made clear that Democrats will continue to push the idea, portraying the GOP as dug in against tax fairness.

More recently, the president has taken up the cudgel for a cause that would actually affect a great many more people than the Buffett Rule: the preservation of current interest rates on government- backed college loans.

Authorization of the current rates is soon to expire, so Sen. Jack Reed is now at the forefront of a high-profile issue he has long pursued in the relative quiet of the Senate appropriations subcommittee on education -- and before that, another panel with jurisdiction over the student-loan program.

Rhode Island's two U.S. representatives, Jim Langevin and David N. Cicilline, have also joined the fight on the student-loan issue.

Langevin will speak at 10:30 a.m. Monday at a news conference at the RISLA College Planning Center at the Warwick Mall.

And Cicilline will host a "call to action" session for students and parents at 10 a.m. Tuesday at Rhode Island College.

Cybersecurity initiative advances

In similar fashion, Langevin's longtime interest in cybersecurity affords him some standing to speak out on related legislation as it works through the legislative process.

Though he no longer sits on the homeland security panel, Langevin gained some attention as co-chairman of a cybersecurity report that recommended a set of actions to the incoming Obama administration in 2008.

Last week, Langevin applauded a bipartisan cybersecurity bill -- including a provision he had sought -- that passed the House. He spoke out against Republican initiatives in separate but related legislation under House consideration.

Librarians honor Reed

Reed received top honors last Monday night from two organizations representing the nation's librarians. …