” Absentee Ballots are like a late reporting Republican Precinct” said one prominent Democratic Party official to me in 2002. This was the mantra from Democrats at the time. At the time I was serving as the Field Coordinator for the Party working through the DEC Chairs Association. The message was clear: focus on election day GOTV and just treat the absentees like it was Collier County. Jeb Bush entered the election cay 2002 with a 500,000 vote lead over Bill McBride. He won the election by 750,000, meaning he did not win that decisively on the day of the election. But the advantage the GOP banked went right down the ballot into Congressional, State Senate and State House races.
The tide was so overwhelming that two of the three best funded Democratic challengers for Congress in the country, Wayne Hogan and Harry Jacobs were trounced. All of this happened BEFORE election day despite the protestations of myself and many others.
Thanks goodness a decade later we have Obama for America. The Presidents campaign adroitly run by David Axelrod, David Plouffe and others has taken the opposite course, beating the GOP at their own game. So despite the constant noise from conservatives who claim that Mitt Romney’s momentum has sealed the race (Both Karl Rove and Dick Morris within the last 24 hours essentially have said this) the reality is that the President has banked an early advantage that could be insurmountable in key states. Florida, believe it or not could be one of them.
Consider that in 2008, when Barack Obama carried the state by over 3%, he lost the absentee vote to John McCain by 12%. Today’s Florida absentee numbers still have the Republicans ahead, but not by the types of margins they have traditionally banked. The GOP retort claims that the Democrats have simply turned early voters into absentee voters, something that I believe will be disproved this upcoming week as early voting opens. It is however true that the Democrats have shifted some of the base vote that turns out normally on election day to vote absentee this cycle.
While it is entirely possible the Democrats have just turned reliable election day voters into absentee voters, the banking of an early base vote allows GOTV activities of the party and OFA to focus on less reliable voters or the so called “persuadable voters” (if they in fact actually exist which is questionable.) The Republicans were able to do this in 2002 and 2004 as the Democrats focused on turning out the base for early and election day voting. This cycle, the shoe is on the other foot, and the election could well be decided before election day yet again.