Battleground watch: Early voting surges in CO and NC, campaigns focus on Florida

In two battleground states - Colorado and North Carolina - the number of early voters just passed the mark of 50% of the total number of ballots cast in 2004. Nevada is set to join that group by the end of today, and other states also have monstrous early voting rates.

Since all the data suggests that early voters are significantly more Democratic and African-American than the electorate at large, this means that McCain will need very strong numbers among voters who will cast a ballot on Election Day to win those states - particularly since the early voting totals in those states will grow much more over the next few days.

This puts McCain in somewhat of a lose-lose situation in those states. If turnout on Election Day is low, it would mean that more than half of the Colorado, North Carolina and Nevada voters will have cast an early ballot, making it very difficult for McCain to close the gap. If so many people come out on Election Day that early voting does not represent that high a proportion of all voters, it would mean that 2008 turnout has shattered the 2004 totals and that there are a lot of first-time or sporadic voters - and that would be an amazing development for Obama.

(Democrats got more good news in Colorado today when voting right groups cut a deal with the Secretary a State to ensure that new voters whose names have been purged since May not only can cast a provisional ballot but have those provisional ballots presumed to be valid unless officials prove otherwise. This is a huge shift from the usual standard under which it is up to challenged voters to prove they are eligible.)

McCain’s hope then has to be that Republicans are simply waiting to vote until Election Day while Democrats have been pushed to vote early, so that not (comparatively) Democrats will be left by Tuesday. And there is some evidence to back that theory: In both Nevada and North Carolina, the electorate is turning more Republican by the day:

  • In Nevada’s huge Clark County, the share of Democratic vote has been declining for each of the part four days (from 53% to 47,5% ) and it was in the high 50s in the first three days of voting; the share of the GOP vote started off at 23% but comprised a high of 34% of yesterday’s vote. The same trend is true in Nevada’s swing Washoe County: Yesterday’s partisan breakdown was the tightest yet (43-38, versus 48-35 a week ago).
  • In North Carolina, more than 224,457 voters cast a ballot yesterday alone. 33% of them were Republicans; 48% were Democrats, and less than 23% were African-American. Those percentages are far more favorable to Republicans than they were a week ago, when more black voters were casting a ballot than Republicans.

This data might back up Republican hopes that the Democratic advantage is fading. However, was anyone expecting the electorate’s partisan and racial breakdown to stay what we have been seeing over the past week? These numbers might not be as jaw-droppingly good for Democrats as we have gotten used to, but Democrats and African-Americans continue to vote at far greater proportions than their share of the electorate well into the second week of early voting!

Yes, yesterday’s share of the black vote in North Carolina is smaller than it was a few days ago (23% instead of 28%), but it remains far superior to the 19% of black voters that made up the 2004 electorate. That black turnout keep out-pacing white turnout day in and day out is remarkable given how many black voters have already cast their ballot (meaning that there is a smaller pool of black voters who have yet to cast a ballot).

Given all of this data, it has become fairly inconceivable that black voters would not represent a greater share of the electorate than they did four years ago.

Since nearly all black voters will cast their ballot for Barack Obama (and other Democratic candidates), even a small increase would be hugely beneficial to Democrats: The share of the African-American vote does not have to rise from 19% to 26% (where it is now in early voting data) to impact results; even a boost to 21% or 22% could make a difference in tight races. (This is not something pollsters are taking that much into account: 20% of the sample of SUSA’s latest poll from North Carolina is African-American, which is approximately the 2004 level.)

Meanwhile, the Obama campaign is paying a huge amount of attention to Florida - a remarkable development given that the state was the one place Obama appeared to be weaker than a generic Democratic when he wrapped up the nomination. We got our first hint of this in September when David Plouffe announced his campaign’s huge budgetary commitment to Florida; then, Obama camped in the state for a fewy days while preparing for the first debate; and he held a number of rallies last week to coincidence with the start of early voting, including one with Hillary Clinton.

Yesterday was further proof of Obama’s dedication to winning the state’s 27 electoral votes. This is the state in which he held his first joint appearance with Bill Clinton, and his 30-minute infomercial ended with a live address from… Florida. Now, Obama is sending in Al Gore to campaign on his behalf in the Sunshine State, confirming the impressive network of surrogates he is deploying.

While the amount of attention lavished on Florida might be surprising given that Obama’s chances appear far better in Virginia, Colorado and Nevada (any one of which would suffice if Obama all blue states), one reason for these efforts might be that Florida’s demographics are different than those of other states, so that even if McCain somehow manages a comeback in a state like Pennsylvania, that does not mean he can pull off a similar reversal in Florida. And given how many electoral votes the state has, a victory here would leave McCain with no path to victory - not to mention what Democratic gains in the state could mean for upcoming election cycles.

Furthermore, Obama’s dedication to Florida has forced the McCain campaign to invest a large amount of resources to a state they were hoping to win easily; given that this state is a money pit with a high number of expensive media markets, Florida’s competitiveness has ruined the McCain campaign and prevented them from investing in other crucial swing states. Now, McCain appears to have convinced Charlie Crist to take a more active role on his behalf, as the Florida Governor (who played such a crucial role in McCain’s primary victory at the end of January and who was on the Republican VP list) has cut an ad touting the Republican nominee:


The McCain campaign’s stunning decision to accuse Obama of anti-Semitism (with their offensive on Khalidi, their charge that Obama is paling around with anti-Semites and their transparent allusion to Reverend Wright) is another tactic aimed at Florida via its substantial Jewish vote.

0 Responses to “Battleground watch: Early voting surges in CO and NC, campaigns focus on Florida”

  1. 1 Mark R.

    Fascinating statistics!

    Of course, Friday and Saturday will also be extremely fascinating, as many voters will be inclined to go vote on a Saturday, when they are off work.

    I can imagine these numbers exploding on the weekend.

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