The 70,000 vote edge Democrats had over Republicans four years ago in early voting helped propel President Obama to victory over Mitt Romney here. Iowa GOP chairman Jeff Kaufmann said that lesson’s been learned and, because Iowa is a battleground state again in this year’s election, the Republican National Committee has invested in new technology to identify and turn out voters.
“So we’re going to double-down on our end,” Kaufmann said last Friday. “We have everything in place.”
Craig Robinson, founder of theiowarepublican.com, once served as a political director for the Iowa GOP. He says it’s normally the presidential campaign that takes the lead in identifying voters.
“The party has good, dedicated staffers that are working,” he says, “but they’re not bolstered by a strong campaign effort.”
By this past Friday, 40,000 more Democrats than Republicans had voted early in Iowa. Pat Rynard worked on Democratic campaigns the state for a decade and he recently founded iowastartingline.com. He sees a trend.
“Barack Obama won Iowa in 2012 by six points, so you don’t have to get to 100 percent of your early vote total as you had in 2012,” Rynard says. “You just have to get pretty close and they’re getting pretty close right now.”
Robinson says his fellow Republicans don’t approach early voting with the same “intensity” as do Democrats.
“It’s maybe how we’re wired. We’re not trying to unearth every rock to find every vote,” Robinson says. “We think: ‘Come on. You’re smart enough. It’s Election Day. Get out there.'”
Early voting began September 29. Democrats have had movie stars and Olympic gold medalist Michele Kwan travel the state to encourage early voting, but the bulk of the door-to-door work is being done by people like Wayne Hook, a Republican-turned-Democrat who’s volunteering to identify early votes.
“I’m retired. I have more time to stay up on current events,” Hook said one Saturday this month before he headed out to knock on doors. “…I feel a sense of urgency.”
Republicans like Brad Wheatie of Fort Dodge say they feel the urgency, too. Wheatie points to the surprising “Brexit” vote in Great Britain.
“I hope that we’ve got several percentage points that they’re not calculating,” he said after seeing GOP vice presidential nominee Mike Pence speak in Fort Dodge last week.
About 83,000 independent voters in Iowa have already cast early ballots. A recent Quinnipiac University poll found Trump and Clinton tying among independents at 40 percent each, with six percent of Iowa independents saying they’ll vote for Gary Johnson, the Libertarian candidate.
In 2012, 43 percent of all the votes in Iowa were cast before Election Day.