By KEITH LAING, THE NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA
THE CAPITAL, TALLAHASSEE, Oct. 28, 2008……An independent analysis of the two million votes already cast in Florida shows Democrats out-pacing Republicans so far in the race for the state’s 27 electoral votes.
The United States Election Project, operated by George Mason University professor Mike McDonald, shows that 44 percent of the 2,063,157 people in Florida who have already cast ballots either in-person or by mail are registered Democrats, while 40 percent are Republicans and 15 percent are independents.
So far, more than 1 million people have voted early in person at the 283 precincts open across the state, while another 1 million-plus have voted absentee. Early voting will continue through Nov. 2 and absentee ballots can be request until Oct. 29.
All told, the four-point Democratic advantage in early voting, which the party’s internal numbers also show, represents a clear reversal from the typical Republican early voting advantage in Florida. Democrats have amassed a wide 54-30 percent margin when it comes to in-person early voting, enough so far to overcome the traditional Republican advantage with mail-in absentee voting, much of which comes from military personnel. There, Republicans lead 50 percent to 35 percent.
McDonald said that Democratic advantage likely won’t be reversed.
“What’s happening in Florida is that early voting at polling places is coming in at a faster pace than absentee votes,” he said. “We can look at the (number) of ballots still out there and see that the Democratic advantage should persist.”
McDonald added that the Democratic advantage in Florida is also being seen in other states like Iowa and North Carolina, where Democrats hold 49-28 and 49-37 percent margins respectively. But the Election Project study found that in Colorado, where 80 percent of early voters so far have voted by mail, the Democratic early advantage was negligible. There, Democrats only lead Republicans by one percent in ballots cast so far.
McDonald cited the Florida numbers, as well as North Carolina and Iowa, as evidence that the much-ballyhooed turnout effort this year by Democrats might actually be as good as advertised.
“The Democrats seem to be really doing a good job with their ground game,” McDonald said. “It speaks to something about Barack Obama’s campaign.”
McDonald said that while the early voting in-person advantage for Democrats in Florida and elsewhere was impressive, it did not mean that the party should bank on winning the state’s 27 electoral votes just yet.
“Don’t count out the Republican campaign,” he said. “They (typically) concentrate on a 72-hour turnout campaign, so their get-out-the-vote will really kick into high gear over the weekend.”
McDonald said Democrats have seen early voting leads evaporate in the closing days of the election before. But banking votes now is a clear advantage for the party, he said.
“Every name that turns out to vote now is a name they can cross off their list, so they can concentrate their (late get-out-the-vote) efforts on people they believe to be supporters who have yet to vote,” McDonald said.
Democratic party spokesman Eric Jotkoff agreed the early voting turnout of Democratic voters did not mean the election had been won.
“While we are very encouraged by the turnout so far, we are continuing to make sure that our hundreds of thousands of volunteers across Florida are focused on turning out every eligible voter to vote for Barack Obama and Democrats up and down the ticket,” he said.
But Jotkoff said that the early voting Democrats have shown the enthusiasm gap that has favored the party throughout this long election cycle. In the party’s primaries this spring, about 37 million people voted nationally in the Democratic contest won by Obama, while 20 million cast ballots in the Republican contest won by John McCain, R-AZ. Of the 11.2 million Florida voters registered for the general election, nearly 660,000 more identified themselves as Democrats than called themselves Republicans.
“Clearly the record number of Floridians turning out to early vote shows that Floridians are excited to bring change to our state and nation by electing Barack Obama and other Democrats so we can rebuild our economy and get our nation back on track,” Jotkoff said.
With the large numbers of voters turning out at early voting sites, Gov. Charlie Crist on Tuesday extended the hours for early voting by executive order. Those sites will be open 12 hours a day the rest of the week instead of 8 hours a day, and 12 hours total over the weekend instead of 8 hours.
Republican Party of Florida spokeswoman Katie Gordon said the GOP was not worried that the Democratic early voting advantage would translate into a Florida win on Nov. 4. Gordon said the party wouldn’t release the numbers it has collected on the party affiliations of early voters, but believed its message would lure enough voters to the polls to win.
“We are confident in our strategy for winning Florida and in John McCain’s unique appeal to voters in this state,” she said. “Unlike Barack Obama, John McCain and Sarah Palin are committed to keeping taxes low for families and small businesses and do not believe that we should ‘spread the wealth’ to solve our nation’s current economic crisis. On November 4, Floridians are going to vote for John McCain because he has demonstrated the experience and the leadership to bring real change to Washington.”
Gordon added that McCain would benefit from strong Florida surrogates like Gov. Charlie Crist and Sen. Mel Martinez, who are stumping hard for him in the state, hoping to counter Democratic heavyweights like former president Bill Clinton and Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-NY, who are both scheduled to campaign for Obama in Florida this week.
“Gov. Crist and Sen. Martinez are ramping up the campaign in Florida, grassroots is stronger than ever, and we are fighting for every vote,” Gordon said. “Republicans are out-spent, out-staffed, out-registered, and out-advertised in Florida, but Florida voters see through the Obama hype and embrace the McCain message of keeping more tax dollars in our pockets instead of taking more of Joe the Plumber’s hard earned money.”