Democrats Hope Early Votes Will Save Senate Majority

Barack Obama won Iowa with the help of early and absentee voters, and Bruce Braley's hopes may ride on a repeat.

Bracing for election losses on Nov. 4  -- and hoping to repeat President Obama's 2012 success -- Democrats are relying on early voting to cling to their precarious Senate majority.

With Republicans more enthusiastic about turning out to vote on Election Day, Democrats are trying to bank as many votes as they can. (Click here for a comprehensive state-by-state schedule of early voting, courtesy of the Early Voting Information Center at Reed College in Portland, Oregon.)

They're looking at Obama's playbook, when he parlayed the early-voting process to success. In 2012, absentee ballots accounted for 43 percent of the total Iowa vote, and Obama's 20-point edge among those voters easily overcame Republican challenger Mitt Romney's five-point edge among voters who cast ballots on Election Day. That let Obama carry the state.

For this year's election, the early-voting process already is underway in Iowa and North Carolina, two Democratic-held states that Republicans are targeting among the six that they need to overturn the Democrats’ 55-45 Senate majority.

In Iowa's 2010 midterm election, more than 30 percent of Iowa voters cast absentee ballots, and “I expect that we’ll beat that 30 percent” this year, Matt Schultz, Iowa’s Republican secretary of state, said last week.

As of Sept. 28, 156,288 Iowa voters had requested absentee ballots, and 52 percent of them are Democrats.  Republicans represent 27 percent, and 20 percent said they had no party affiliation, according to state election officials. This is good news for Democratic Rep. Bruce Braley, who may have slipped behind Republican state Sen. Joni Ernst in the race to succeed retiring Democrat Tom Harkin.

Absentee ballots were mailed early this month in North Carolina, where Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan is in a close race with Republican state House Speaker Thom Tillis. Of the 16,849 mail ballots sent through Sept. 27, 41 percent were requested by Democrats and 35 percent by Republicans. In-person early voting begins Oct. 23.

The key question: Will any Democratic advantages in early voting be sufficient to overcome the anticipated Republican surge on Election Day?

Flashback to last year's special U.S. House election in Florida, where Democrat Alex Sink won the early and absentee vote by 2 percentage points -- but narrowly lost the election to Republican David Jolly, who won in the election-day tally by 12 points. So Democrats will be looking to run up the score as much as they can during the early-voting period.

Republicans and business groups allied with the party also are emphasizing the importance of voting early. With more people than ever choosing to vote early, the Nov. 4 date is more of a deadline than an election day.

“We’re always telling our members, Election Day is the last day to vote,” said Lisa Goeas, a vice president at the National Federation of Independent Business, said last week at a press briefing held by business trade groups.


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