If Democrats weren’t already feeling blithely overconfident about President Obama’s re-election prospects, some are pointing to early voting as yet another source of sanguinity. The last time that there was a major “October surprise” in a presidential election, when Ronald Reagan “sealed the deal” against Jimmy Carter in a late-October debate, there was no such thing as early voting. Even absentee voting was in its infancy. But as part of progressive efforts to improve turnout, especially among low-income voters who sometimes can’t make it to the polls on Election Day, early voting has spread fast in recent elections—from 16 percent of all ballots cast in 2000 to about one-third of the total in 2008. This year, as many as 40 percent of Americans will vote early—which means they can, in the majority of states, already vote. And where does most early voting occur? In swing states. Iowa started voting yesterday. Ohio begins next week. As many as 70 percent of the votes in some crucial states—Colorado, North Carolina, Florida, Nevada—are expected to come from early birds.
As Mitt Romney’s poll numbers keep sagging, the 1980 election has become a kind of magical talisman for Republicans desperately seeking reasons to hope for a miraculous comeback win on November 6. (So has "poll-denial," the new birtherism; see Daily Meme, below.) In the summer, Rush Limbaugh helped revive the old legend of the Reagan Miracle. “I want to remind you of some history,” he told his listeners. “In June of 1980, Jimmy Carter led Ronaldus Magnus 39 to 32.” As summer 2012 turned to fall, and Romney swooned in the polls, a new reference point was discovered.
Even for the flintiest of liberals, it was hard to watch the sad spectacle of Mitt Romney yesterday, after touching down for a rally in Dayton, Ohio, and not feel a little sad for the guy. Here was a beaten-up (and self-harmed) candidate coming off two catastrophic weeks, his poll numbers tanking in key battleground states, now forced to team up with his number two, Paul Ryan, because the campaign reportedly felt the ticket-topper wasn’t generating enough “excitement” on his own.
Around this time in 2004, liberals were panicking. The Democratic nominee for president, Massachusetts Senator John Kerry, was lagging behind George W. Bush, who appeared to be on his way to a second term. This was baffling, and not in a Pauline Kael kind of way. It wasn’t so much that liberals couldn’t imagine the person who would vote Bush—at the time, it wasn’t hard to find a Bush voter—but that conditions were terrible, and it was a stretch to believe that America would re-elect a president who brought the country into two messy wars and the most sluggish economy since WWII.