President Obama appears to have built a lead in early and absentee voting ahead of Election Day in several battleground states, but the early-vote cushion over GOP nominee Mitt Romney is not as big as the one he held four years ago over Sen. John McCain.
More than 29.5 million Americans have already cast ballots in 34 states and the District of Columbia, according to statistics compiled by the United States Election Project at George Mason University in Virginia.
It is important to note that no ballots have been counted yet, but several states offer information about party affiliation of the voters casting early ballots -- a telling sign of how both sides are doing in turning out the vote ahead of Election Day.
Democrats lead in four of the five battleground states where local officials track early voters by party identification: Florida, Iowa, Nevada and North Carolina. In Colorado, Republicans have a slight edge over Democrats, a reversal from four years ago when Democrats outpaced Republicans in the early vote and Obama went on to win the state.
Republicans point to their stepped-up effort, as well as smaller leads in early voting for Obama in several key states than in 2008, as signals that Romney will overtake the president on Tuesday.
Here's where things stand going into Election Day in six closely fought states:
Colorado. Polls and early voting numbers suggest that Colorado will remain very close to the end.
More that 1.6 million voters have cast early ballots here, and thus far 38,000 more Republicans have cast ballots than Democrats. More than a quarter of those who have cast ballots are unaffiliated voters.
In 2008, Obama narrowly edged McCain for early ballots and won the state by 8.6 percentage points.
Florida. More than 4.4 million voters have cast early or absentee ballots, with Democrats holding a slight edge. About 246,000 more Democrats cast early votes; 87,000 more Republicans cast absentee ballots. Obama had a 9-point lead in early voting in 2008 and held on for a narrow victory on Election Day.
Early voting was scheduled to end Saturday, but the Florida Democratic Party filed lawsuits to get more early voting time for four counties in Democratic-leaning South Florida after several counties had long lines.
On Sunday, a judge in Orange County ordered an early-voting site there to open for four more hours. The site was closed for several hours while authorities investigated a suspicious package.
Iowa. Democrats hold an 11-point edge in early voting, a smaller lead than Obama had in 2008 but still a formidable margin. One potential concern for Obama: 40,000 had not returned their mail ballots compared with 21,000 Republicans.
North Carolina. More than 2.5million voters have cast ballots, with registered Democrats holding a 47.6% to 31.8% edge over Republicans. Democrats held a 21-point edge in early voting in 2008; Obama went on to a narrow victory in the state.
Nevada. Obama holds a 7-point edge over Romney in early voting here. The president won the early vote here by more than 20 points in 2008 and won the state by 13 points.
In order for Romney to win Nevada, he would need to cut into the Democrats' margins in Clark County, at least tie Washoe County and drive up turnout in rural Nevada, the Republican National Committee notes in a memo. There are signs that all three could happen, but it remains to be seen if it will be enough.
Obama won't have as large an early-vote margin as he did four years ago, but senior aides are confident that they are in good shape to win the state. Democrats have a 40,000 early-vote lead and two in three Nevada early voters are women, young people, African Americans or Latino, all groups that trend for Obama, campaign manager Jim Messina says.
Ohio. The Buckeye State and its 18 electoral votes could decide who wins. More than 1.6 million Ohioans have already cast ballots. Voters aren't required to register by party, so information about early voters is more limited than in other states.
Messina said the Obama campaign has done a better job getting out sporadic voters, particularly those who did not vote in the mid-term elections in 2010. More than 179,000 non-midterm voters from counties Obama won in 2008 have cast ballots, compared with 91,000 from Republican-leaning counties.
Republicans counter that absentee and early voting is 12% higher in counties McCain won than the counties Obama won.
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