As the public focuses on political polls, the campaigns in the nation’s biggest battleground state are concentrating on a more-important set of figures: Absentee-ballot votes.
At least 284,000 people have already cast absentee ballots in Florida over the past week.
The number grows hourly. About 2 million voters have requested the ballots, which are typically mailed.
It’s a sign that we don’t have a single Election Day in Florida.
We have Election Days.
Polls tell us Mitt Romney’s winning in Florida right now. Absentee-vote data show us that’s probably true.
But the numbers also show President Barack Obama’s campaign is closer than ever to matching Republicans in requesting and voting absentee ballots.
“We very much like what we’re seeing in terms of absentee requests,” said David Plouffe, a senior Obama advisor.
Republicans are happy, too.
So it’s good-news, bad-news for both campaigns.
Republicans are winning the absentee-vote race in North Florida, the Naples area and in Miami-Dade County, where nearly 20,000 ballots have already been cast. Democrats are pulling ahead in Central Florida, Tampa Bay’s two biggest counties and in Broward County.
The Republicans lead Democrats when it comes to absentee votes cast, about 126,000 to 114,000. In percentage terms, Republicans lead Democrats 44-40 percent.
And that’s despite the fact that Republicans trail Democrats by 4 percentage points when it comes to active voter registrations: 36-40 percent.
Meantime, a Miami Herald/El Nuevo Herald/Tampa Bay Times poll last week showed Romney with a 7 percentage-point lead over Obama. A Florida International University poll, released Monday, shows Romney within striking distance of Obama among likely Hispanic voters, a crucial voting bloc.
Despite all the positive trends for them, Republicans are a little nervous. They’ve always out-organized and outvoted Democrats by absentee ballots — usually by big margins.
But no more.
Relative to this time in the 2008 election, Democrats trailed Republicans by 16 percentage points in voted absentee ballots. That lead has been cut to 4 percentage points this year.
“The Democrats are being smart,” said Brett Doster, a top Florida adviser to Romney. “There has been a concerted effort by the Democrats to pour it on. They know they need to keep up.”
Doster said about half the electorate will probably cast ballots before Election Day on Nov. 6.
Though the absentee-vote numbers are small relative to the state’s total 12 million voters right now, the data give an idea of how close and hard-fought the race is in a state where, if Romney loses, Obama stays president.
The Obama campaign has a trump card: in-person early voting, which begins Saturday, Oct. 27.
In 2008, Democrats outvoted Republicans during in-person early voting, flocking to the polls to such a degree that then-Gov. Charlie Crist issued an executive order keeping the early voting polls open an extra 4 hours daily. Obama won Florida and the White House.
Thanks to Crist, early voting lasted for a total of 120 hours in 2008. Heading into this election, the Republican-led Legislature shortened the total maximum days of early voting from 14 to 8 and capped the hours to a maximum of 96.