More than 535,000 absentee ballots have already been cast as of Tuesday night and, as in prior mid-term elections, Republicans have a solid lead in returns.
About 48 percent of all ballots cast so far have been by Republicans, 35 percent by Democrats and 17 percent by independent voters. That Republican lead of about 13 percentage points is certainly bigger than during the 2012 presidential elections, when Democratic turnout is generally higher, but it’s slightly less for this time in the election season for a mid term.
For years, Republicans have dominated at early voting by mail; Democrats by ballot casting in person during early voting, which starts Monday.
To be clear: we won’t know how people voted until Election Day. So the return numbers are more of a gauge of campaigns’ ground games. And both sides have something to brag about.
Last week, Republicans led by 18 percentage points in ballots cast compared to Democrats, who are catching up somewhat now that the big Democratic counties, which mailed absentees later than Republican counties, are starting to report.
As usual, Pinellas County remains the Oregon of Florida as the leader in mail-in voting: 45,000 ballots cast, of which 43 percent are from Republicans, 37 percent from Democrats and 16 percent from those with no party affiliation.
Because it’s a Republican County, it’s tempting to chalk this up as a win for Gov. Rick Scott. But this is Crist’s home county, which he won outright in a three-way U.S. Senate race that he lost overall in 2010.
In Pinellas’ next door neighbor, the much-larger and more-Democratic Hillsborough, Democratic mail-in ballots exceed Republican ones cast by just 1 percentage point. If Crist wins Hillsborough, as expected, and carries his home county of Pinellas, there’s a good chance he wins the Tampa Bay media market, one of the ends of the I-4 corridor that Scott won in 2010. (Crist also needs a chunk of Pasco)
Democrats have their biggest numbers posted in Orange County, the heart of the Orlando media market in the I-4 corridor, where they lead Republicans by 3 percentage points in returns. That also bodes well for Crist.
But, still, Republicans are dominating elsewhere. Of the top 15 counties for overall returns, Republicans have cast more ballots in nine: From Pinellas to Scott’s home counties of Lee and Collier. Republicans are posting solid leads in Volusia, Sarasota and Duval counties as well -- all keys for Scott.
Republicans are also winning the Miami-Dade ballot turnout. But the lead is just 2 percentage points in a county where they once blew Democrats away. This is something to watch.
Here’s a snapshot of the returns in big counties, sorted by party:
|Ballots cast||Party||County||% of total|