In Pa. primary, enthusiasm and acrimony amid light turnout

Machine inspector Murray Costin closes the curtain as Kym Rosen enters a voting booth at a polling place near Seventh and Wolf Streets in South Philadelphia.

From the union halls of South Philadelphia to the rolling hills of the city’s collar counties, a steady stream of voters cast ballots in Tuesday’s primary elections with change on their minds.

Democrats spoke of righting what they viewed as a national error in the 2016 presidential election. Their GOP counterparts also sounded the change theme – but with different notes.

“This is the time we’re going to have to come out to make up for two years ago,” Scott Lohbauer, 34, a Democrat, said outside the East Passyunk Community Center. “It’s nice to be part of a blue wave.”

But President Trump wasn’t the sole source of frustration. Another common theme running through Democratic voters’ comments was a desire for diversity. In a year when women held multiple ballot positions, voters looked to see those names become permanent fixtures.

“I’m a big proponent of not having a bloc of homogeneous people in office,” said Matt Kircher, his gaze fixed on his son and daughter as they ran in the grass outside the community center on a May day that felt more like July. “I want people who aren’t afraid to work with the other side.”

Kircher, 37, said he personally sat down with two of the people he voted for, Elizabeth Fiedler and Molly Sheehan, hashing out the change he wishes to see in his neighborhood and beyond.

>>READ MORE : Live updates on polling places, turnout and candidates across the region

Voter attention was focused on the crowded congressional races – particularly the 10-person Democrat ticket in the Fifth District.

Official numbers won’t be available for at least a few days, Robert Torres, the acting secretary of the Department of State, said Tuesday night. Historically, he added, turnout for midterm congressional elections statewide has ranged from 18 to 25 percent, and he expected this one to fall within those figures.

Turnout “doesn’t appear to be very heavy,” Terry Madonna, election expert at Franklin and Marshall College. As steamy as some of them have been, “congressional races typically aren’t big draws,” he said.

“On the Democratic side, there are some signs of enthusiasm, brought on by antipathy to President Trump, anticipation of a good general-election year for Democrats nationwide, and optimism about the composition of the new congressional districts in Pennsylvania,” said Michael Hagen, a Temple University political science professor.

“On the other hand, the absence of competition at the top of the ticket has reduced the visibility of the Democratic primary,” he added.

The Republicans did have a marquee race — the often acrimonious contest for the gubernatorial nomination among attorney Laura Ellsworth, businessman Paul Mango, and State Sen. Scott Wagner, all seeking to challenge Gov. Wolf in November. GOP voters also said they were looking for change.

“I want to continue to see the change in our government,” said Roger Scarborough, 56, the owner of an electrical company that bears his name, who voted in Croydon, Bucks County. “More conservative, I want to get government out of everything. I’m kind of fed up with how Democrats have been behaving.” He said he was seeing some progress.

So, too, was Joanne McMahon, who said she cast votes Tuesday for Tommy Tomlinson for state Senate and Wagner in the gubernatorial primary.

McMahon, 50, called Trump a  “chauvinist pig” and a “misogynist.” But she says she voted for him in 2016 and she believes he keeps his promises.

>>READ MORE: Is this primary election Pennsylvania’s oddest ever?

Voters from both parties expressed another frustration in common: The legions of people who chose not to participate in the primary.

Lisa Hecht, 46, became a naturalized citizen two years ago, after living in Philadelphia on a green card. The native Canadian said she was moved to exercise her new constitutional right after watching so many of her peers take it for granted.

“There are issues I care about, especially immigrant reform, that I want to be given attention,” she said early Tuesday as she walked out of the Francis Scott Key School, at Eighth and Wolf Streets. “I knew 2016 would be an important election, regardless of who won. And I knew once Obama left office, I would want my voice heard.”

For others, primary voting was a steady habit, if not one given a little more urgency.

Bob McGill, 55, of Morton, Delaware County, parked his work truck long enough to cast a midday ballot at the fire hall in nearby Folsom.

“What I’m seeing going on, what’s in the news about jobs being lost, it upsets me,” he said. “We’ve got to start local, if we’re going to start somewhere. We need to put people in office that we think will look out for us.”

Not far away, in South Philly, Joe DeLullo made an early morning walk to Mastery Charter’s Thomas Campus with Sonny, his white Maltese, to cast his vote.

>>READ MORE: What to watch for in Pa. primary election results

“We only have one voice, and if we don’t use it, no one hears us,” he said. The Democrat, 65, declined to say whom he and his loyal voting mate cast a ballot for, but said labor issues are important for him.

“I care about Social Security and how we treat the elderly,” he said. “And as far as health insurance goes, there has to be a ceiling for these premiums I’ve been paying for my family.”

DeLullo, who said he has “strongly disliked” Trump since 1985, said the president won “because too many people stayed home.”

“I’ve always voted in primaries,” said Louise Petrone, a Haverford Republican married to a “lifelong Democrat.” Their marriage, she joked, proves that the parties can get along after all. “So few people vote, you can work to create your own voting bloc.”

Petrone hoped her vote could help “pull the Republican Party back.”

“When I was growing up, the GOP was the sensible party, but something happened and they got fanatical,” Petrone, 56, said. “We like fixing roads, and we like reasonable tax policy. We’re pro-business, but not at the expense of the future.”