Early ballots: Clinton sees strength in NC but lags in Iowa


WASHINGTON (AP) — Seven weeks before Election Day, the earliest numbers from advance voting for president show initial strength for Hillary Clinton in swing state North Carolina, good news for Donald Trump in battleground Iowa and a record number of requests for ballots in Ohio.

The first early voting figures Tuesday are too preliminary to serve as clear indicators about how the election will go. Still, they are of interest because, unlike polls, they deal with actual voters either casting ballots or taking their first steps to do so. Campaigns are scrutinizing these figures to help guide their strategies.

Among those requesting an early ballot in Iowa was Josh Hughes, a 19-year-old sophomore at Drake University in Des Moines.

“I’m so ready for the election to be over,” he said, citing negative campaign rhetoric.

He plans to vote for Clinton, the Democratic nominee. Many of his classmates — once Bernie Sanders supporters — are opting to wait for now. “The engagement is a little bit lower,” he said.

Democrats historically do well in attracting early voters, and Republicans acknowledge their main goal is to avoid deep deficits before Nov. 8. With absentee balloting underway in North Carolina, voting kicks off this week in Georgia, Wisconsin, and Virginia as well as Iowa next week.

Four years ago, about 45.6 million people or 35 percent of the electorate, voted early.

In North Carolina, a must-win state for Trump, more than 53,000 voters had requested ballots, and 2,939 had been returned, according to data compiled by The Associated Press. That’s up from 47,313 ballots requested during a similar time frame in 2012.

Broken down by party, Democrats made up 40 percent of the ballots returned so far compared to 33 percent for Republicans. At this point in 2012, Republicans were running slightly ahead, 43 percent to 38 percent, in ballots submitted. Republican Mitt Romney narrowly won the state that year and it’s difficult to see how Trump could accumulate the 270 electoral votes needed to capture the White House without winning North Carolina.

Clinton has sought to energize state Democrats by pointing to a voter ID law passed by a Republican-led legislature that was later struck down by a federal court as racially discriminatory. On Tuesday, the campaign also announced a new radio ad in North Carolina and other battlegrounds aimed at African-American young adults. Trump, meanwhile, was visiting rural parts of the state Tuesday to gin up support among working-class whites.

“More than half of North Carolina voters will cast their ballots ahead of Election Day, which is why we have been working tirelessly to give voters all the information they need to make their voices heard,” said Dan Kanninen, the Clinton campaign’s senior adviser for North Carolina.

Iowa doesn’t start early voting until Sept. 29, but more than 68,000 people already have requested absentee ballots. Democrats dominate the early requests with 40,476 or roughly 60 percent of the ballots so far, compared to 13,011 or 19 percent for Republicans. But in an indication of softness among Clinton supporters, the numbers from her party are down significantly from 2012, when 92,850 Democrats had requested ballots at this point, compared to 13,635 for Republicans. Obama won Iowa in 2008 and 2012 based on a strong early vote, despite losing the Election Day vote there.

The Republican National Committee, which is heading much of Trump’s get-out-the-vote effort, described the early numbers as evidence that Clinton’s campaign is failing to inspire enthusiasm among voters.

“The RNC is continuing our historic ground game efforts in Iowa to ensure Republican victories up and down the ticket on Election Day,” said Sean Spicer, chief strategist for the RNC.

In Ohio, election officials reported Monday that more than 524,000 voters had submitted absentee ballot applications. That’s up from nearly 485,000 during a similar period in 2012, when a record 1.87 million absentee ballots ultimately were cast by mail and in person, according to the secretary of state’s office. The state did not break down the requests by party affiliation.

Of the Ohio requests so far, more than 11,000 are from overseas and military voters, whose ballots will be mailed out this week. Ballots for the other voters will be mailed on Oct. 12.

The Supreme Court last week declined to reinstate a period of Ohio early voting in October in which people could register and vote on the same day. That was popular among minority voters.

“All Ohioans have many options to cast a ballot,” Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted said.

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AP’s Election Research and Quality Control Group in New York contributed to this report.

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On Twitter follow Hope Yen at https://twitter.com/hopeyen1

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