ByÂ Marc CaputoÂ and Trevor Aaronson, Miami Herald
More than 1.1 million Floridians have already voted by absentee ballot in the past month, which amounts to regular-season play in the contact sport of Florida politics.
The GOP is the top seed, edging Democrats by 5 percentage points in casting absentee ballots, which are typically mailed in.
But the playoffs start today with in-person early voting. And that’s when Democrats â€” already narrowing the absentee-ballot gap with Republicans â€” typically excel.
“We are going to keep Florida blue,” Ashley Walker, President Barack Obama’s Florida director, boasted Friday in a conference call where the campaign touted facts and figures showing its strong organization.
However, the Obama campaign’s successful push to bank absentee ballots could cost it some bragging rights when it comes to showing big gains during the in-person early voting period that runs to Nov. 3.
This year, about 38 percent of the absentee ballots cast by Democrats have come from those who voted early or voted on Election Day in 2008, according to an analysis of voting records by theÂ Miami HeraldÂ and the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting.
That means Democrats could post relatively fewer early-voting increases over Republicans compared to 2008, when Democrats cast 500,000 more in-person early votes while the GOP cast about 250,000 more absentee ballots.
In all, about 9 million Floridians are expected to vote in this year’s presidential race, with about 40 percent casting ballots before Election Day, Nov. 6.
Republicans say Democrats have “cannibalized” their early voters this time. But the Obama campaign dismisses that as “spin” and says it’s focused on getting its core voters out while trying to entice occasional or sporadic voters â€” who tend to back Obama â€” to show up at the polls.
Also, it’s not as if Republicans haven’t eaten into some of their regular voters, either. About 29 percent of the absentee ballots cast by Republicans this year came from those who voted early or on Election Day in 2008, theÂ HeraldÂ and FCIR analysis shows.
With such a tight race in Florida, the next eight days of in-person early voting will start to exceed the importance of the TV-advertising air war, which has so far resulted in $174 million being spent in Florida alone.
Bottom line: Banked votes are worth more than ad time. And the votes of independents â€” who have cast 16 percent of the absentee ballots so far â€” are almost as important to each party as turning out its base voters.
The absentee ballots cast so far also give a glimpse of what’s to come: a hard-fought, close race in the Interstate 4 corridor from Tampa Bay through Orange County and a huge volume of votes pouring in from Broward and Miami-Dade counties in South Florida.
Republicans note the political landscape has changed significantly in the past four years. The unemployment and home-foreclosure rate is worse in Florida than in the nation at large, and Republicans are far more excited about Mitt Romney now than they were with John McCain in 2008.
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