Election 2008 made those of us who teach campaigns & elections classes rewrite our entire lectures about early and absentee voting, especially here in North Carolina. The mass mobilization effort that the Obama campaign put together that year changed the Tar Heel state from a 13 point Republican state in 2004 to a solid purple competitive state (remember, Obama won North Carolina by only 0.4 percent) in 2008.
This shift from ruby-red to deep purple was due, in part, to the impact of early voting. Over 42 percent of all registered voters in North Carolina voted before Election Day in 2008, and over half of those who cast early ballots were registered Democrats, with registered Republicans making up only thirty percent of the early votes cast.
At the time and in my further analysis, I thought that this has changed the whole game of campaigning and electioneering in this state, and that if the rules of the game change, you need to change with them. Apparently the Republicans learned that lesson and are putting it to good use in 2010.
With their energized base, Republicans are taking advantage of early voting in significant ways, and especially targeting vulnerable Democrats. This year, all the convention wisdom is that Larry Kissell, the 8th Congressional District Democrat, has got a big-old bull’s eye painted on him. But there are two other congressional races that perhaps folks aren’t paying attention to, but the old gut feeling tells me, watch these:
11th Congressional District: Heath Shuler may have been a popular quarterback, but like Kissell, he’s one of the dangered Southern conservative Democrats running in the N.C. mountains. No matter his talk about running against Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Republicans see this as possible prime pickin’, and early voting in the 11th (as of October 18) seems to indicate that the GOP groundwar is in full force. The NC Civitas Institute is reporting daily analyses on early voting and shows that while Democrats have cast over 15,299 early votes, Republicans are nipping at Heath’s heels with 14,368 votes.
7th Congressional District: along with Shuler and Kissell, Mike McIntyre cast a “no” vote on the Health Care Reform Act; no surprise, since he comes from the conservative 7th District down east of Charlotte. But the surprise is that he may be in more trouble than others think, especially if early voting is an indication. The 7th is second, only to the 11th, in early votes cast, and it's a pretty dead-even race (13,592 Dems to 12,753 Reps having cast their ballots).
So why is early voting important? Well, according to exit polls, we know that if someone identifies with one of the two major parties, there’s a 90 percent change they will vote for that party’s candidates. And if nearly 13,000 registered Republican voters have already cast their ballots in the 17th, well, you do the math.
Looks like the Republicans may have learned their lesson from 2008—don’t wait until November 2nd, but bank those ballots early and often. This could be an early wave lapping at November 2, with the tidel wave yet to appear. If so, Kissell, Shuler, and McIntyre better grab some life jackets.