There are two basic strategies campaigns can deploy to take advantage of early-voting opportunities. The first, and safest, is to “bank” the most reliable voters early, so that Election Day resources can be concentrated on the hard cases — the marginal voters who might not normally cast ballots. The second — and harder, yet more productive — strategy is to get those marginal voters to the polls early, gaining an advantage going into Election Day.
Buried deep in a New York Times report on early voting is some evidence the Clinton campaign’s apparent lead in early voting is more significant than we might expect at first glance because it is taking the harder yet more productive strategy.
Clinton aides said they had created a battleground-state model that scores voters based on factors such as their likelihood of voting and their susceptibility to advertising. So far, among those the Clinton campaign sees as least likely to turn out — people who have skipped nonpresidential elections — Democrats are voting in far greater numbers than Republicans in both North Carolina and Nevada, and in slightly larger numbers in Arizona.
If that is accurate, then in North Carolina and Nevada, at least, the GOP is going to have a much tougher get-out-the-vote task on November 8, despite having (by most accounts) fewer “ground game” resources than those enjoyed by Democrats. As it happens, both states are on most “must win” lists for Trump. That matters a great deal more than just adding up early votes for each side and declaring a winner.
Compounding the GOP’s problem is the Trump campaign’s use of candidate rallies as its primary instrument for promoting early voting. Marginal voters are not typically the kind of people who take the time to whoop it up at some campaign event. I suppose some would attend a Trump rally as the political equivalent of the circus coming to town. But still, you figure it is mainly the certain-to-vote true believers who put on their Make America Great Again hats and don’t have to be prompted to chant “Lock her up!” when Hillary Clinton’s name is mentioned who will make that scene. And securing those votes early is ultimately no more valuable than securing them late.