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Eight million ballots in early voting draws parties’ attention

William Douglas McClatchy-Tribune

WASHINGTON – A week before Election Day, more than 8 million people in some 30 states have already voted, a sort of early warning sign to the major parties of states where they’re doing well and where they’re already falling behind.

Besides convenience to voters, early voting provides almost real-time – but somewhat incomplete – snapshots of how some campaigns are faring.

With control of the Senate hinging on 10 too-close-to-call races in states such as Iowa, Georgia, Louisiana and North Carolina, the major political parties and their aligned groups are combing over early voting results and scrambling to reach supporters who haven’t cast ballots yet.

“You run a risk if you don’t connect with early voters now,” said Bill Carrick, a California-based Democratic strategist. “If you see Republicans are doing better than Democrats, you play catch-up and try to get more Democrats to vote. You know who historically send in their ballots. If they haven’t, you phone them or knock on their door.”

Aggressive outreach is drawing in new voters, as Republicans play catch-up to the Democrats’ early-vote turnout machinery.

In Georgia and North Carolina, for example, about 22 percent of this year’s early voters have no records of voting in the 2010 midterm elections, according to Michael McDonald, a University of Florida political science associate professor who compiles early voting data for the United States Elections Project.

“The Republicans have built a vehicle, like a car. Democrats built that car a long time ago,” he said. “The problem is you don’t see them (Republicans) reaching out beyond registered Republicans. They don’t have the data yet, but their goal is to have something working and working well by the 2016 elections. They’re off to a good start.”

Early voting has produced mixed results for both parties heading into next Tuesday’s election.

In Iowa, where Republican Joni Ernst and Democratic Rep. Bruce Braley are vying for the open Senate seat created by the impending retirement of Democrat Tom Harkin, Republicans last Wednesday trumpeted figures released by Iowa’s election offices that showed them outpacing Democrats in early votes for the first time in two election cycles.

The Republican lead was 305 votes. Democrats led Republicans at this point in 2012 by 56,908 ballots and by 16,426 ballots in 2010. Republicans nationally have stepped up efforts with the help of outside groups such as the conservative Americans for Prosperity, which has poured in $125 million to improve conservative-voter turnout. “We’ve completely revamped our ground game, putting an emphasis on turning out low-propensity voters before Election Day, and it’s working,” Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said of the Iowa numbers last week. “The Democrats can spin all they want, but they’re in trouble in a blue state.”

But the lead flipped last Thursday and Democrats moved ahead by 463 ballots, McDonald said.

Of Iowa’s 306,369 returned ballots, about 41 percent were from Democrats, 40 percent from Republicans and 19 percent from unaffiliated voters, according to the United States Elections Project.

“More Democrats are voting and more nontraditional Democratic votes are coming in, those who don’t vote in midterms,” said Justin Barasky, a spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

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