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More Democrats casting early ballots

Mail-in votes may decide close races

Voters were urged to submit their ballots early in Miami on Monday, the first day of early voting in Florida, during a rally organized by local unions and Democratic politicians. Voters were urged to submit their ballots early in Miami on Monday, the first day of early voting in Florida, during a rally organized by local unions and Democratic politicians. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
By Nancy Benac and Liz Sidoti
Associated Press / October 22, 2010

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WASHINGTON — Election Day is already over for more than 3 million Americans, and a surprising number of them are Democrats.

Republicans are gaining ground in turning out early voters compared with their showing two years ago, but figures from the first batch of states that offer clues about early-voting patterns still give Democrats an edge in a number of states and counties.

“If people thought the Democrats were just going to roll over and play dead in this election, that’s not what we’re seeing,’’ said Michael McDonald, a George Mason University professor who tracks early voting nationally. “They have got to be feeling a little bit better with the numbers that they’re seeing.’’

While it’s impossible to tell for whom people are voting, so far more Democrats than Republicans are casting ballots in Iowa, Maryland, North Carolina, Louisiana, and Nevada’s heavily Democratic Clark County, which supplied two-thirds of the state’s voters in 2008.

Republicans are flexing their organizational muscles and leading the pace in Florida, even though Democrats have the edge in registered voters there, and in Colorado. The parties are running about even in Maine, where Democrats have about 5 percent more registered voters. Ohio’s early-voting trends reflect the state’s swing-voting status: Democrats are ahead in the party stronghold of Cuyahoga County around Cleveland, while Republicans lead in GOP territory of Hamilton County, which is home to Cincinnati. Ballots are virtually even in Franklin County, which anchors central Ohio.

With 30 percent or more of all votes likely to be cast early, both sides are going all-out to lock in supporters’ ballots early. And for the first time in a midterm election, they are combining traditional shoe-leather canvassing and get-out-the-vote rallies with technological tools such as Facebook and text messaging.

Strategies run the gamut: In Washington state, Democrats held a “tweetup’’ to rein in young early voters. In Illinois, a voter-education group posted a video on YouTube about the state’s early-voting law highlighting the ability to vote naked — from the comfort of home, please. In Florida, Democrats e-mailed a notice that “Today is Election Day. No, that’s not a typo, because every day between now and November 2 is Election Day.’’

With nearly every indicator in a new Associated Press-GfK poll pointing toward big GOP victories, the Democrats’ groundgame advantage is squaring off against the Republicans’ enthusiasm edge, and the outcome could determine who wins close races.

Democrats hope they can minimize sweeping coast-to-coast losses with a retooled get-out-the-vote operation that’s been tweaked since Barack Obama’s groundbreaking 2008 presidential campaign and tested during several special House elections the party recently has won. Republicans, by most accounts, have a less sophisticated program, but they are banking on their loyalists — as well as GOP-leaning independents and disaffected Democrats — turning out in droves simply because they are fired up to vote against the party in power.

There’s still plenty for the Democrats to worry about as they pore over early-vote statistics in places such as Nevada, where Senate majority leader Harry Reid is in a tough reelection race against Sharron Angle, a Republican and a Tea Party movement favorite.

While Democrats so far make up about 46 percent of those who have cast ballots in Clark County, which includes Las Vegas, compared with 38 percent for Republicans, the Democrats’ 8-point advantage is down from 22 points in 2008. And Republicans, who make up a third of the county’s registered voters, are turning out in numbers that exceed their share of the electorate this time.

Early voting also has been strong in a number of states that don’t break down turnout by party. In California, for example, nearly 570,000 ballots have been cast. In Texas, 316,000 have voted, compared with 157,000 at this point in 2006, according to totals from the 15 counties with the largest number of registered voters. In Washington, where virtually everyone casts a mail-in ballot, the state estimates roughly 240,000 have voted.

“This is a phenomenon that’s here to stay and it’s going to continue to increase in popularity, even in the midterms,’’ McDonald said.