Neg­a­tive tone of cam­paign hasn’t kept mil­lions from early vot­ing

Baltimore Sun - - FRONT PAGE - By Cath­leen Decker

COLUM­BUS, OHIO — Don­ald Trump and his cam­paign sur­ro­gates have been bank­ing that a cadre of vot­ers who rarely sur­face at the polls will show up and buoy his cam­paign as it drives to­ward Tues­day’s elec­tion.

But while re­li­ably Repub­li­can vot­ers are show­ing up at early-vot­ing sites, they are be­ing met there by a coun­ter­ing army: women, Lati­nos and other sup­port­ers of Hil­lary Clin­ton.

The early vote is an im­per­fect mea­sure of elec­toral re­sults, but two points seem clear af­ter weeks of vot­ing in some states.

The first is that an elec­tion whose neg­a­tiv­ity seemed des­tined to drive away more vot­ers than it at­tracted has so far done the re­verse, prompt­ing a record del­uge of early vot­ing in many of the states that will

de­cide the pres­i­dency. By Tues­day, ex­perts es­ti­mate, as many as 40 per­cent of the even­tual bal­lots may have al­ready been cast.

In Mary­land, about 860,000 votes were cast dur­ing the early-vot­ing pe­riod, amount­ing to about a fifth of all reg­is­tered vot­ers.

The sec­ond is that Trump has been help­ful to Clin­ton’s long ef­forts to in­crease vot­ing among women and Lati­nos.

In key states like North Carolina, Ne­vada and Florida, gains among women and mi­nor­ity vot­ers have bol­stered the Demo­crat’s ef­forts to block Trump’s av­enues to vic­tory. Trump, too, has seen big turnout in­creases among his tar­geted vot­ers, but they have not over­whelmed the Demo­cratic forces, as some in his party had hoped.

Along with sup­port for Clin­ton, the in­ten­sity is driven by dis­taste for Trump, who has made high-pro­file deroga­tory com­ments about women and Lati­nos through­out the cam­paign.

Early vot­ers are val­ued by both cam­paigns, and par­tic­u­larly so in this scan­dal­tossed year; once cast, the ver­dict can­not be changed if the voter’s sen­ti­ment shifts, ex­cept in rare cases un­likely to change the elec­tion’s out­come. And they are also pro­tec­tion, par­tic­u­larly in the Mid­west and the North, against an out­break of weather that might com­pli­cate ef­forts to get to the polls on Elec­tion Day.

There is no cer­tain con­nec­tion be­tween the early-vote win­ners and ul­ti­mate elec­tion re­sults. Un­til Elec­tion Day, it will be im­pos­si­ble to as­sess whether those who cast bal­lots early are the same ones who oth­er­wise would have shown up on Tues­day or whether they sig­nif­i­cantly ex­panded the pool of vot­ers. At least one key state, Penn­syl­va­nia, has lit­tle early vot­ing, mean­ing that its re­sults will rest on Tues­day’s turnout.

Clin­ton of­fi­cials said in a con­fer­ence call Fri­day that they had tar­geted in their early-vot­ing ef­forts those who don’t al­ways show up, so that they would broaden their over­all num­ber of vot­ers.

“Our strat­egy all along was ... to bank the vot­ers who have the low­est propen­sity to turn out,” Clin­ton cam­paign man­ager Robby Mook said.

Lock­ing those vot­ers down also helped free Clin­ton to con­cen­trate in the fi­nal days of the race on places where the ma­jor­ity of votes are cast on Elec­tion Day. She was in Detroit and Pitts­burgh on Fri­day and will be in New Hamp­shire and Philadel­phia in com­ing days.

Trump cam­paigned in New Hamp­shire and Penn­syl­va­nia on Fri­day, em­pha­siz­ing his con­tention that Clin­ton should be dis­qual­i­fied from the pres­i­dency due to cor­rup­tion.

As he has in re­cent days, he also en­cour­aged early vot­ing.

Those study­ing the num­bers say there has been an uptick in vot­ers who rarely cast bal­lots or who never have. The lat­ter cat­e­gory is par­tic­u­larly valu­able to Clin­ton, since younger vot­ers side with her by a large mar­gin.

Mook, in his con­fer­ence call, por­trayed the Demo­cratic effort as a blaz­ing suc­cess and took to task the de­cid­edly lower-pro­file effort by Trump to draw out early vot­ers.

“We have so far not seen a surge from the Trump camp and his vot­ers,” Mook said. “And if he hasn’t banked his votes by this point, he’s go­ing to have an even taller task.”

But if Democrats are brag­ging about an ad­van­tage, the num­bers paint a more nu­anced pic­ture: Vot­ing is up among many groups, in­clud­ing those who would be re­li­ably con­sid­ered Trump vot­ers.

Look­ing at the vote in North Carolina, for ex­am­ple, Univer­sity of Florida po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tist Michael Mc­Don­ald said that the women’s vote had in­creased 11.8 per­cent over the 2012 to­tals. That would aid Clin­ton, based on her fairly strong stand­ing among women.

Yet the men’s vote had in­creased by 10.4 per­cent, Mc­Don­ald said. That would ac­crue to Trump.

Both can­di­dates have tried to boost early vot­ing in the last sev­eral weeks. Clin­ton ar­rived in Ohio the day be­fore the close of reg­is­tra­tion in mid-Oc­to­ber, and two days be­fore the start of early vot­ing, a travel pat­tern she has kept up in other states.

Ohio re­mains one of the cam­paign’s big­gest chal­lenges; although Democrats were catch­ing up in early votes as the fi­nal week­end be­fore the elec­tion neared, Repub­li­cans had out­dis­tanced them early on.

The ques­tion for those study­ing the early vote is what pro­por­tion of the votes of dif­fer­ent sub­groups is align­ing with ei­ther can­di­date. Clin­ton has made a big pitch for the sup­port of Repub­li­can women liv­ing in the sub­urbs of the key states, a vote that usu­ally goes to the GOP nom­i­nee. Un­til the Elec­tion Day bal­lots are counted, it won’t be known how suc­cess­ful her ef­forts have been.

Sim­i­larly, a boost in Demo­cratic early vot­ers would be a strong sign for any other party nom­i­nee. But this year, Trump has at­tracted the votes of blue-col­lar Democrats, par­tic­u­larly in the Mid­west, so he too could ben­e­fit from a surge in the op­po­site party.

In any case, by the time the polls close Tues­day, many more vot­ers may have cast bal­lots than any­one might have pre­dicted.

“There’s been this the­ory that since the elec­tion has been so over­whelm­ingly neg­a­tive that would depress turnout,” said Tom Bonier, CEO of Tar­getS­mart, which an­a­lyzes voter data.

“The early-vote data sug­gests so far that’s not the case, that we are headed to­ward a high-turnout elec­tion.”

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