WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama heads toward Election Day with an apparent lead over Republican Mitt Romney among early voters in key states that could decide the election.
Obama’s advantage, however, isn’t as big as the one he had over John McCain four years ago, giving Romney’s campaign hope that the former Massachusetts governor can erase the gap when people vote on Tuesday.
More than 27 million people already have voted in 34 states and the District of Columbia. No votes will be counted until Election Day but several battleground states are releasing the party affiliation of people who have voted early.
So far, Democratic voters outnumber Republicans in Florida, Iowa, Nevada, North Carolina and Ohio — five states that could decide the election, if they voted the same way. Republicans have the edge in Colorado, which Obama won in 2008.
Obama dominated early voting in 2008, building up such big leads in Colorado, Florida, Iowa and North Carolina that he won each state despite losing the Election Day vote, according to voting data.
“In 2008, the McCain campaign didn’t have any mobilization in place to really do early voting,” said Michael McDonald, an early voting expert at George Mason University who tallies voting statistics for the United States Elections Project. “This time around the Romney campaign is not making the same mistake as the McCain campaign did.”
McDonald said he sees a shift toward Republicans among early voters, which could make a difference in North Carolina, which Obama won by the slimmest of margins in 2008, only 14,000 votes.
The Republican shift, however, might not be enough to wipe out Obama’s advantage in Iowa and Nevada, which Obama won more comfortably in 2008.
In Colorado, Florida and Ohio, get ready for a long night of vote counting on Tuesday.
Romney’s campaign aides say they are doing so much better than McCain did four years ago that Romney is in great shape to overtake Obama in many of the most competitive states.
“They are underperforming what their 2008 numbers were and we are overperforming where we were in 2008,” said Rich Beeson, Romney’s political director. “We feel very good heading into the Tuesday election.”
Obama’s campaign counters that Romney can’t win the presidency simply by doing better than McCain. “It’s not about whether or not they’re doing better than John McCain did,” said Jeremy Bird, Obama’s national field director. “It’s about whether or not they’re doing better than us.”