The importance of early voting underscores why the Obama campaign told Floridians on July 12 how to request mail-in ballots, well in advance of an Oct. 31 deadline. And early voting proved enough of a missed opportunity for the GOP in 2008 that Republicans’ have revised their get-out-the-vote playbook. Romney’s team describes the importance of early voting and its strategies to lock up pre-Election Day ballots as “the chase.”
“It’s kind of changed the game,” Kirsten Kukowski, spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee, told RCP. “It’s changed the dynamics.”
Blending early-voting trends since 2004 with the GOP’s ambitions to compete with some of the Obama team’s innovations, the coordinated RNC and Romney teams compiled a list of states and expectations for early voting (as percentages of all votes cast). The following are forecasts Republicans are using, alongside comparisons from 2008. The early voting calculations from the last election come from state-reported data, as well as published figures compiled by George Mason University’s Professor Michael McDonald, who is an authority on the subject[vi]:
Colorado, 85 percent (78.9); Nevada, 75 percent (66.9); New Mexico, 72 percent (62.3); North Carolina, 70 percent (60.6); Florida, 70 percent (51.8); Ohio, 45 percent (30); Iowa, 41 percent (36); Michigan, 30 percent (20.4); Wisconsin, 30 percent (21.2); Virginia, 20 percent (13.5); and New Hampshire, 11 percent (10)....
“Florida, North Carolina, Nevada and Colorado – those four states, people argue, are going to be very, very important in the last couple weeks of the campaign,” Kukowski continued. “The fact that over 70 percent of their electorates will have already voted by the time October ends is critical.”
Asked to size up the GOP projections for early voting, an Obama campaign source said the forecasts were high but “not out of the question.” A surge in early voting in Ohio to 45 percent this year appeared large, for example, “but it’s feasible,” he said.John Dickerson writes at Slate:
One of the benefits of all of these techniques is that it helps a campaign feel in control of its own destiny. A lot of campaign work can feel disconnected, but if you can measure your list against the number of people who have voted, you know you're getting somewhere. In some cases, this work could also be psychological make-work, wasting resources that could be used more productively. But campaigns have convinced themselves in the past few elections that they can squeeze enough new votes using certain techniques that it can make a difference. The Mitt Romney campaign worked the early vote so diligently ahead of the Florida Republican primary that it built the crucial firewall it needed against the advancing Newt Gingrich.
Banking votes early may change what used to be known as the October surprise—the late election phenomenon that favors one candidate. In the 2000 election, news broke just days before the election that George W. Bush had been arrested for driving while under the influence. His strategists say they saw a sharp drop-off in evangelical voters who would otherwise have been predisposed to voting for Bush. If those votes had been banked, the voters couldn't have jumped ship. This could be an argument for dishing your dirt on your opponent early, before he has his supporters locked in. Of course doing that gives your opponent time to recover, too.