The battle for votes in Iowa is being waged call by call and even door-to-door, with both political parties now focused on “banking” votes early. 

Iowans will be able to start casting ballots for the 2012 election on September 27. That’s 40 days before Election Day. Iowa Democrats have been proponents and beneficiaries of early voting for years, while most Republicans have opposed the idea and focused on getting their voters to the polls on Election Day. Not so this year.

“It’s a big part of our program,” Rick Wiley, the Republican National Committee’s political director, said during an interview with Radio Iowa. “You have some western states, Nevada and Colorado come to mind, and North Carolina, where almost 80 percent of their votes will vote prior to Election Day so it’s definitely a trend that’s moving upward and Iowa is one of those states as well.”

Wiley predicted about 40 percent of 2012 General Election voters will opt to vote early rather than wait ’til Election Day. 

Back in 2008, nearly 534,000 Iowans cast their ballot before Election Day and over 246,000 of those voters were registered Democrats. Democrats have been pressing a “vote early” message in Iowa for this year’s election, too. Vice President Joe Biden recorded a video message last week for the effort.

“Iowa, you worked hard to get this right. Exercise it. Vote early,” Biden said. “You can go to your county auditors. There are a number of vehicles by which you can vote. You can mail in your vote, but start early. Make your vote count.”

Both campaigns are counting on armies of volunteers to find new voters. Jim Arneson of West Des Moines has often volunteered for local candidates, but this is the first time he’s volunteered on a presidential campaign. He was part of the GOP’s “Super Saturday” effort this past weekend, going door-to-door to tout Romney as the right candidate for the times.

“The public isn’t as informed as they think they are and one or two reminders of what they should know and,” Arneson said, snapping his fingers at the end of the sentence to denote success.

Kimberly Boggus is the chief volunteer at a phone bank that operates every Monday and Wednesday night in northwest Des Moines for the Obama campaign. She keeps track of the voter contacts.

“If we don’t get them on the phone, we’re knocking on their doors. We’re sending post cards. We’re inviting them to house parties,” Boggus said this past Wednesday night. “We’re doing everything that we can do.”

Iowa is again one of the 11 so-called “battleground” states where polls indicate the presidential election is too close to call. In 2008, Republicans didn’t start their get-out-the-vote effort in Iowa until September but, according to the Republican National Committee’s political director, the GOP effort to identify its voters here started in March.

“The ground game in Iowa is going very well for us right now,” Wiley said.

It’s an effort to expand beyond Iowans with a history of voting for Republican candidates to Iowans who’re registered as “independents” as well as those who have little or no history of voting.

“We have goals set for every county: I.D. goals and turn-out goals,” Wiley said.

Democrats are trying to find new voters in Iowa as well. 

“Are there new voters? Absolutely,” Michael Blake, deputy director of the Obama campaign’s “Operation Vote” effort, said recently during an interview with Radio Iowa. “There are definitely new voters, people that have moved into the state, voters that are now of age.”

Blake visited Iowa in July to speak with African-American groups. The Obama campaign also held a “summit” in Des Moines in late July for Latino activists.

“Our job is to expand the electorate and get all people of all constituencies engaged to vote,” Blake said.

With the potential for a small number of votes to decide the election here in Iowa, the efforts of the two parties to find new voters may be the key to victory. In 2004, more than 1.5 million Iowans voted in the presidential election, but President Bush narrowly won Iowa, by about 10,000 votes. Back in 2000, the race was even closer here. Al Gore collected about two more votes per precinct than Bush did and won Iowa by about 4000 votes.