ATLANTA — More people have voted early in 10 states than in 2010, and Republicans and Democrats alike say the numbers show they have the advantage in key Senate and gubernatorial races heading into Tuesday.
Perhaps nowhere is the debate over who benefits from the early turnout more fierce than in North Carolina, where Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan is seeking a second term. Her race with Republican challenger Thom Tillis, the state house speaker, is among the matchups that will decide whether Republicans will pick up the six seats they need to retake control of the Senate.
Registered Democrats in the state have out-voted registered Republicans by almost 16 percentage points through Sunday, casting 47.6 percent of the 1.15 million early ballots. The overall total is up by almost 200,000 votes from 2010.
Ben Ray, a spokesman for the Democrats' joint campaign office in North Carolina, said the gap exceeds Democrats' 9-point advantage at this point in 2010. The raw numbers also give Democrats reason for optimism, as both blacks and women make up a larger share of the early vote than in 2010, when Republican swept statewide races in the state.
Blacks, who support Hagan by an overwhelming margin, have cast about a quarter of the early vote, compared to 21 percent in 2010. Women have cast 55 percent, two points higher than 2010.
But Republicans counter they also faced a 16-point early voting gap in 2012, but rallied on Election Day to give Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney a 2-point win over President Barack Obama. Said GOP spokesman Michael Short, Democrats "are going into a hostile Election Day scenario without the margin they wanted."
About 16 percent of early North Carolina voters — 183,523 so far according to an analysis by Democrats — did not vote four years ago. Ray said just more than half are Democrats, while almost 26 percent are Republicans and the rest are unaffiliated.
Nationally, at least 16.4 million ballots have been cast in 31 states, according to a tally conducted by The Associated Press. The figures include in-person early voting and mail-in ballots that have been returned.
Four years ago, 26.9 million out of 89 million overall votes, or about 30 percent, were cast away from traditional precincts.
Along with North Carolina, the 10 states included Arkansas, Georgia, Florida, Iowa, Louisiana, Maryland, Montana, North Carolina and Utah.
Here's a look at early voting in some those states:
Both parties have increased their totals from 2010, but there are more registered Republicans voting early than registered Democrats — 21,200 to 8,500. The GOP has closed the Democrats' overall advantage to 1 percentage point, leaving them confident in the chances of their Senate nominee, Joni Ernst.
Voting almost entirely by mail for the first time, registered Republicans have an 9-point lead over registered Democrats in returned ballots. That's a potentially ominous number for Democratic Sen. Mark Udall. GOP analysts also say they lead among low-propensity and young voters.
Early turnout is 181 percent of its 2010 figure, the largest proportional increase of any state. Registered Democrats have a 19-point advantage, compared to 4.4 points in 2010. But Republican Sen. David Vitter still won that year by almost 19 percentage points, and Republicans note Louisiana is another state where many white registered Democrats support the GOP. Polls suggest Sen. Mary Landrieu will need a huge African-American turnout to counter that trend.
Georgia voters don't register by party, but African-Americans have accounted for about a third of the early votes, higher than the 2010 midterms and the 2012 presidential election. That's what Democrat Michelle Nunn would need to capture an open Senate seat over Republican David Perdue.
Of course, as Republicans note, the GOP swept the state in 2010 and Obama still lost Georgia to Romney by almost 8 points two years later.
With early voting about a quarter higher than four years ago, registered Republicans have a 4.3-point advantage over registered Democrats as GOP Gov. Rick Scott seeks a second term. But the GOP advantage was almost 13 percentage points in 2010.
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