updated 10/6/2006 5:46:19 PM ET 2006-10-06T21:46:19

A record low primary turnout and voter disgust for politics could spell trouble for Republicans trying to keep control of the House and Senate.

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Only 15 percent of eligible voters cast primary ballots this year, breaking the 19 percent low record from the last two midterm elections, according to an American University study. But frustrations with President Bush, the Iraq war and a congressional scandal involving lurid messages could increase turnout in the November elections — and the voters most mobilized won’t be Republicans.

“If the election were held tomorrow, the Republicans would be extraordinarily in trouble,” said Curtis Gans, director of American University’s Center for Study of the American Electorate. “It makes independents and Democrats much more likely to vote Democratic. It may make some Republicans sufficiently unhappy to stay home.”

GOP leaders have a month to recover from recent revelations that former Rep. Mark Foley, R-Fla., sent inappropriate and sexually explicit messages to former pages. He resigned and sparked a spate of speculation, sniping and scapegoating.

“We’re talking 4 1/2 weeks before the election,” Gans said. “Whether this story will have the type of legs toward the election that will make it a major issue for Republicans is not clear.”

The study, released Friday, also found record highs in Senate primaries viewed as referendums on incumbents’ support for the war in Iraq. In Connecticut, a record 12 percent of eligible voters cast ballots in the Democratic primary. Anti-war candidate Ned Lamont won the party’s nomination and defeated incumbent Joe Lieberman, prompting the three-term senator to run as an independent.

Sen. Lincoln Chafee’s Republican primary battle prompted 9 percent of Rhode Island residents to vote, also a state record. Chafee faced a tough challenge from conservative Stephen Laffey. National Republicans spent millions on a get-out-the-vote effort to ensure a primary win for the incumbent.

Gans predicted November’s general election turnout could inch higher than 2002, when 40 percent of eligible voters cast ballots.

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