Florida and Ohio, the two biggest winner-take-all prizes on the presidential primary calendar in March, aren’t waiting until next month to vote. They’re voting now — and with potentially profound consequences for the 2016 campaign.
Struggling to survive until their home states’ votes are tallied March 15, Ohio’s John Kasich and Floridians Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio are racing to bank tens of thousands of early ballots that are increasingly being cast well before primary day.
In Florida, nearly 850,000 Republican absentee ballots have so far been requested. Almost 43,000 Floridians have already voted, roughly 25,000 of them Republicans.
As Bush and Rubio are busy working the absentee system to carve up Florida’s 99 delegates the main beneficiary of their in-state rivalry might be Ted Cruz or Donald Trump, who continue to outpoll the rest of the field.
But in Ohio, the dynamics could benefit Kasich. Polling stations there open for early in-person voting on Wednesday and Kasich appears to have the state all to himself to collect early ballots and get a jump on Ohio’s 66 delegates.
In Florida and beyond, Bush is getting on-the-ground help from Right to Rise, his super PAC, which is sending mailers to frequent absentee voters. "This is a long and expensive process and early voting makes it even harder for candidates with limited resources to compete,” said Paul Lindsay, a spokesman for the Bush super PAC. "Some candidates will have a hard time living hand to mouth with a condensed calendar and multiple states voting at the same time."
The Rubio-backing Conservative Solutions super PAC is doing no similar work.