We are now two weeks from Election Day, with as much time remaining until all votes are cast as has elapsed since the second debate… and it’s not clear whether John McCain has made any progress in the intervening time.
In fact, the electoral map is getting increasingly difficult for the Arizona Senator. The last thing a campaign wants to do in late October is waste time arguing over whether it still believes it can win the race, but that is exactly the position the McCain campaign found itself yesterday after John King reported on CNN that Republicans no longer believed they could win Colorado. Such an admission would have essentially been a concession, as McCain would have to win Pennsylvania to offset Colorado’s loss - and we aren’t even talking about the other endangered red states.
The McCain campaign immediately pushed back on King’s report, pointing out that the RNC was spending money in the state and denying that the McCain campaign had any plans to pull back of Colorado. But it is hard to read the GOP’s response as a particularly enthusiastic one, and Republican operatives undoubtedly realize that the Centennial State is a tough state for them to hold. And we should not be too harsh on McCain’s decision to concentrate on Pennsylvania: He is currently trailing in a number of states he absolutely must win, so he has no choice but to play heavily in states in which he looks weak.
The McCain campaign’s logic is the only one they can latch onto: They will not win the election unless the national margin tightens up in the first place, and if that happens states like Pennsylvania and Colorado that were close in mid-September could very well become competitive again. In one sense, saying that McCain should stop contesting Pennsylvania is almost like saying that he should stop contesting the election all-together, and just fully close down the show is the one thing a campaign cannot do.
That Pennsylvania does not have early voting helps those calculations since it means that Obama cannot take advantage of the current climate to turnout enthusiastic Democrats or lock the votes of unwavering supporters. Colorado, by contrast, does have early voting (which started yesterday, and the first signs point to a strong turnout) and an extensive mail-in program, which could make it more difficult for McCain to play catch-up.
Elsewhere, early voting continues at a strong pace - and one that remains favorable to Democrats. Here our now perhaps-daily update:
- In North Carolina, we have now reached 480,000 early voters (that’s 140,000 more than yesterday). The partisan breakdown is overwhelmingly Democratic, 56,1% to 27,4%. That’s a slight improvement over yesterday for Democrats.
- In Georgia, the latest total is 757,666 early voters, of which 35,7% are African-American.
- In Nevada, 59% of early voters are Democrats, 25% are Republican, a stunning ratio that far outpaces the 2004 breakdown, where Democratic early voters outpaced Republicans by a few points, not 2:1.
- Early indicators are that Florida’s early voting (which kicked off yesterday) is also going strongly, though there are no hard numbers (yet?).
As I said yesterday, none of this tells us what the partisan breakdown will be on November 4th, and we can be sure that 59% of Nevada voters will not be Democrats once all ballots are cast. However, we aren’t talking about small groups of voters here, but significant shares of the electorate. This is the most remarkable illustration of the enthusiasm gap we have seen since the early months of 2008 when turnout in Democratic primaries constantly outpaced that of Republican contests.
A scenario in which Democratic voters turn out in far greater numbers than Republicans has been worrying GOP operatives for a year now, and if those trends hold (albeit at a far less dramatic scale), it could prove a disaster for Republicans up and down the ballot. It also puts the burden on the GOP to replicate their 2004 turnout effort, for anything less than that is unlikely to overcome Obama’s machine.
And it is escaping no one’s attention that even some high-profile Republicans have been doing very little this year to motivate the base; Florida’s Charlie Crist, for instance, has been largely absent from the campaign trail, and he barely spent any time talking about the presidential race while stumping for state-level candidates yesterday: “Crist mentioned McCain at each of the three stops, but only fleetingly, devoting more time to candidates like Nancy Detert, running for an open state Senate seat in Sarasota.” This comes on the day after the Orlando Sentinel reported that the Florida Republican Party was considering withholding millions of dollars to use in subsequent cycles.