Just beyond the halfway mark in North Carolina’s early voting period, a simple question with no clear answer emerges: Do the total numbers that overwhelmingly favor Democrats spell a repeat for President Barack Obama in the Tar Heel State, or will incremental gains being made by Republicans be enough to reverse the narrow gap of 2008?
Through Saturday afternoon, 1,458,424 ballots had been cast, an uptick of more than 300,000 compared to this point in the last presidential election. Data released by the State Board of Elections on Friday show 49.7 percent of votes were cast by registered Democrats, 31.1 percent by Republicans, and the rest by unaffiliated voters and Libertarians. That amounts to more than 250,000 Democrats than Republicans already having cast ballots. It’s clear as a bell to political operatives on both sides.
“A lot of our key constituencies are showing up strong,” said Walton Robinson, the state Democratic Party spokesman, pointing specifically to a spike in turnout by African-American and young voters as an example. “We’re ahead. It’s as simple as that.”
But maybe it’s not so simple.
The GOP has a net advantage of more than 42,000 votes over Democrats compared to last time around, and Mitt Romney spokeswoman Rachel Adams points out that would more than erase the 14,177-vote victory by Obama last time around.
Adams said the ground they’ve already gained and a trend from the last presidential election gives reason to believe North Carolina will turn red. Last time, Democratic turnout steadily dropped off as the early voting period wore on, while Republicans gained steam. That has happened again at a relatively similar rate.
“The math just isn’t adding up for Democrats,” Adams said. “Momentum is clearly on the Republican side.”
Robinson called that wishful thinking. “They’re clearly spinning like tops, and that’s because we’re ahead,” he said. “They’ve finally woken up and realized you have to run a field operation, but they’re still way behind us.”
Michael Bitzer, a political science professor at Catawba College, said both are correct in a sense.
“You can think about it in two different ways: Percentage increases – and Republicans have definitely had percentage increases – or by the raw numbers,” Bitzer said. “If Republicans gain enough ground during early voting, they’ll be in striking distance on Election Day.”
What makes it difficult to predict, according to Thomas Mills, a Democratic political consultant based in Carrboro, is that no one can say for sure which people voting early would have usually voted on Election Day.
“Unlike last time, Republicans have made a huge get-out-the-vote effort, so you would expect to see an increase,” Mills said. “But who are they putting in the polls? If it’s only the base and not people who wouldn’t have voted, they haven’t really picked up much of anything.”
Everyone agrees on at least two things: The race remains too close to call with any real sense of certainty, and with most voters decided everything hinges on who shows up to vote.
Weather and ACC sports
Both parties are in high gear with get-out-the-vote efforts led by surrogates who are crisscrossing the state in an effort to remind their respective supporters that they can vote early through Nov. 3, or on Election Day.
Day-to-day voting fluctuates for obvious reasons – the way the wind blows or the timing of kickoff, for example.
The looming threat of Hurricane Sandy caused Dare and Ocracoke counties to cancel planned early voting on Saturday. Inland, places such as Chavis Community Center in Raleigh had slower-than-usual Saturdays because of the overcast skies. And Talley Student Union on N.C. State University’s campus was something like a ghost town while the Wolfpack played the Tar Heels in Chapel Hill.