BY JIM ASH • FLORIDA TODAY • October 29, 2008
TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Charlie Crist is taking heat from fellow Republicans for a last-minute decision to extend early voting in Florida, but any Democratic advantage might not be as overwhelming as conventional wisdom suggests.
Democrats are beaming that their party is outperforming the Republicans in early voting, releasing numbers Wednesday that show registrants of their party ahead 54 percent to 30 percent among the 1.4 million voters who have gone to the polls early.
“We’re thrilled at the record turnout so far,” said Democratic Party of Florida spokesman Eric Jotkoff. “It’s a clear indication that Democrats want to elect Barack Obama and Democrats up and down the ballot so that we can start creating good jobs, rebuilding our economy and getting our nation back on track.”
But party breakdowns for turnout aren’t the same as final tallies, and at least one poll offered a different view for the campaign of Republican John McCain.
A Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll gave McCain a 49-45 lead over Democrat Barack Obama among Floridians who have already voted.
And Republicans continued to show a traditional strength, leading 50 percent to the Democrats’ 30 percent in the 1.2 million absentee ballots already returned.
Conducted Oct. 25-27, the Los Angeles Times poll gave Obama a 50-47 lead overall in Florida. Only a tiny fraction of the Florida respondents reported voting early, leaving McCain’s lead subject to a wide margin of error. A Quinnipiac University poll, released Wednesday, showed early voters favoring Obama 58-34, another small sample with a potentially wide margin of error.
Meanwhile, some Republicans grumbled that Crist’s dramatic change of heart to expand early voting hours, at the urging of Democratic members of the Florida congressional delegation and House Democratic Leader Dan Gelber of Miami Beach.
Republican operatives said McCain can make up for the apparent Obama surge in early voting through the robust absentee ballot program.
Polls seesaw, but representatives of both campaigns still expect a tight race.
Republican Party of Florida spokeswoman Erin VanSickle declined to comment about early returns.
“Clearly, Gov. Crist continues to put people ahead of politics in Florida, and we commend him for his leadership,” she said. “This type of bold action is why Gov. Crist maintains such high approval ratings among Floridians of all backgrounds.”