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State of the Race: Obama Has 'Slim' Early Voting Lead

George Mason University's Michael McDonald said swing states have been releasing affiliations of early voters, but who wins Virginia won't be clear until the polls close.

President Barack Obama is heading into Election Day with slim early voting leads in a number of battleground states that could help him win the election.

That's the analysis from Michael McDonald, a George Mason University professor and expert on early voting whose Monday lecture — "State of the Race: Who Will Win the Presidential Election?" — gave a glimpse at early voting numbers just hours before polls opened Tuesday.

McDonald said if Obama could win a combination of Nevada or Iowa, plus Wisconsin and Ohio, he could win a second term in the Oval Office. While no votes are being counted until Election Day, McDonald, who tallies early voting statistics for the United States Elections Project, said some swing states have been releasing the party affiliations of early voters.

Early voting numbers are expected to be higher than in 2008, when 42 million people cast their votes early, accounting for 32 percent of ballots cast in the election. This year, experts expect about 46 million people to vote early, roughly 35 percent of ballots cast.

But in Virginia, McDonald said the state would be decided on Election Day, because early voting in the Commonwealth requires an excuse, so the numbers aren’t as telling. He called polling “razor thin” and said former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney couldn’t afford to lose, which is why he made a campaign stop at GMU Monday afternoon.

“Under no circumstances do I think that Obama’s going to win this election by the same margin that he beat John McCain,” McDonald said. “It’s a very close election.”

Picking Up Support

In Nevada, more than 701,000 votes have been cast, surpassing the 2008 early vote total of 649,000. Of those early voters, 44 percent are Democrats and 37 percent are Republicans.

“Obama looks to be very well-positioned in the early vote,” McDonald said.

But McDonald said Romney would likely take North Carolina.

About 47 percent of the 2.7 million early voters are registered Democrats and 31 percent are Republicans. But 50,000 fewer Democrats have voted early than in 2008, McDonald said.

In 2008, Obama won the early vote but lost the Election Day vote, narrowly winning the state. McDonald believed the drop in Democratic early voting could mean a loss for the President.

“Almost assuredly, we’re at a point where Obama does not have a lead in North Carolina,” he said.

In Colorado, about 37 percent of voters are registered Republican and 35 percent are registered Democrat. Early voting is crucial in Colorado, as nearly 80 percent of voters did so early in 2008. But McDonald said it was going to be very close, because polling showed a possible edge for Obama.

More than 1.6 million people have voted in Ohio, but party affiliations are based on the last primary in which a voter participated. McDonald called the data in Ohio “challenged,” and said calling the state could come down to waiting days while absentee ballots are received and counted.

Voting on Election Day

McDonald, said 133 million people, or 60.6 percent of eligible voters, were forecast to vote in the 2012 general election. That’s a slight step down from 2008, when 132.6 million voters, or 62.2 of those eligible, cast their ballots.

McDonald said turnout would be lower due in part to Hurricane Sandy’s thrashing of the North East. Residents of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut still reeling from the hurricane likely won’t be as focused on making it to the polls on Election Day.

“We know it’s going to be lower, but we just don’t know by how much,” he said.

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