- The Washington Times - Monday, October 29, 2012

President Obama’s campaign advisers said Monday that he has a clear advantage in Iowa and Nevada as early-voting in battleground states kicks into high gear, while Republican nominee Mitt Romney has an edge in Colorado. The impact of early voting is less certain in Ohio and Florida.

Nearly 14.5 million voters nationwide had cast ballots by mid-afternoon Monday, according to the United States Election Project at George Mason University. The Obama campaign said its push to get voters to the polls early in hotly contested states such as Florida and North Carolina was erasing much if not all of the advantage that Mr. Romney had built up in absentee ballots, which typically favor the Republican candidate.

A super PAC supporting Mr. Romney, meanwhile, went on the airwaves with ads in Pennsylvania on Monday after recent polls showed the race tightening there. The move prompted a pro-Obama super PAC to counter with its own ads in Pennsylvania, and the Obama campaign said that Vice President Joseph R. Biden will visit the state that Democrats have considered safe territory.

Outwardly, at least, Mr. Obama’s top campaign officials expressed confidence that they are winning the race with a week to go, and they pointed to early voting patterns as their proof.

“Early voting is giving us solid leads in the battleground states that are going to decide this election,” Obama campaign manager Jim Messina said.

The emphasis on early voting is more prominent than ever this year, with 32 states allowing some form of voting before Election Day. Democrats see it as a weeks-long opportunity to get Mr. Obama’s supporters to the polls, especially people in swing states who vote infrequently.

In Nevada, where early voting began Oct. 20, Democrats held an advantage of 45 percent to 37 percent in party registration of those who voted in the first week. Independents comprised 17 percent of early voters. The biggest turnout has been in heavily Democratic Clark County, which includes Las Vegas.

In Iowa, more than 470,000 people had cast ballots through Saturday, according to the Iowa secretary of state’s office — 30 percent of the state’s total vote count from 2008. Registered Democrats have cast 44.6 percent of those early ballots, compared with 32 percent by Republicans and 23.3 percent by independents.

“In states like Iowa and Nevada, we’re racking up early vote margins so large that, if they continue at this rate, Romney’s going to have to win a huge percentage on Election Day, and he’s just not going to be able to mathematically get there,” Mr. Messina told reporters in a conference call.

Mr. Romney has the early advantage in Colorado, where 38.5 percent of early voters are Republican and 36 percent are Democrat — a 16,000 vote edge for the Republican. About 25.5 percent of early voters there are independents.

In Florida and Ohio, two of the biggest states where both campaigns are focusing intensely, the impact of early voting is not as clear. Voting began Saturday in Florida, and first-day records were set in the Democratic strongholds of Miami-Dade and Broward counties.

As of Sunday, nearly 1.6 million people had voted in Florida. Republicans led through Saturday among absentee ballots cast, 44 percent to 39 percent, although that 5-point advantage was down from a 15-point edge for Republicans at the same point four years ago. Republican officials said all early voting shows their side in the lead, while four years ago the GOP was down by 7 points to the Democrats at the same stage of the race.

A new Tampa Bay Times/Bay News 9 poll shows Mr. Romney holding the edge among voters in a key region of central Florida, winning 51 percent to Mr. Obama’s 45 percent among registered voters the Interstate-4 corridor. That stretch is viewed as vital to winning the state’s swing voters.

Early voting in Ohio began Oct. 2, and by Saturday, more than 1 million people had voted. A Time magazine poll last week showed Mr. Obama with a 2-to-1 lead, 60 percent to 30 percent, among those who already have voted.

But Scott Jennings, director of the Romney campaign in Ohio, said in a memo that “Republicans are crippling Obama’s early vote margin, which was his key to victory in Ohio in 2008.” He said 220,000 fewer Democrats have voted early in Ohio compared with 2008, and 30,000 more Republicans have cast their ballots compared with four years ago.

“That is a 250,000-vote net increase for a state Obama won by 260,000 votes in 2008,” Mr. Jennings said.

And Republicans say their early voters include a higher percentage of people who don’t often vote. They argued that more of the Democrats who are voting early in Ohio are people who would have gone to the polls on Election Day regardless. Former George W. Bush adviser Karl Rove said on “Fox News Sunday” that Republicans are turning out more “new” voters in Ohio while Democrats are essentially “cannibalizing” their Election Day voters.

Mr. Messina said the Obama campaign is “gaining steam in Ohio.”

“There have been 16 polls out; we’ve led in 14 and are tied in the other two,” he said.

The final week of the race saw both campaigns making moves in Pennsylvania, a state the candidates have largely avoided as Mr. Obama had a comfortable lead in most polls until early October. Since Mr. Romney closed the gap in Pennsylvania after the first debate Oct. 3, however, the Support Our Future PAC has decided to spend $2.1 million on ads there.

In response, the Obama campaign said it would pay for its own ad buy in Pennsylvania. Mr. Messina said the move by Mr. Romney’s supporters is an indication that Republicans know they can’t win Ohio, and they are “desperate” to win another state.

“We are going to win Pennsylvania,” Mr. Messina said. “But we’re not going to take anything for granted.”

The Republican Party in Pennsylvania said Monday that it is leading in absentee ballots cast by 18.8 percentage points, 55.2 percent to 36.4 percent. Four years ago, the Republicans led by only 1.9 percentage points in absentees.

• Dave Boyer can be reached at dboyer@washingtontimes.com.

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