Snagging Florida’s 29 electoral votes, the grand prize among the swing states, is high on the list of both President Barack Obama and Republican nominee Mitt Romney.
National Polls are indicating Romney may get Florida’s support 49.7 percent to 48.2 percent. However, Democrats are already leading Republicans by as much as 167,000 early votes before Election Day, according to the Miami Herald.
More than 4.5 million Floridians have already voted and though the current lead is wide, it is much smaller than the 280,000-strong edge in early voting Democrats had four years go. Thousands of absentee ballots and absentee-in-person ballots still needs counting, the paper reported.
Experts say it will be a very close presidential election in Florida.
Lance deHaven-Smith, professor of public administration and policy at Florida State University, said specific attention should be paid to counties Democrats either stole from Republicans in past elections, or came close to winning.
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Having voted Republican from 1948 to 2000, Orange County comprises a large population of non-Cuban Hispanics. Cuban-Americans tend to be GOP-leaning and the new constituencies slant Democratic. This is what’s causing the shift. Obama had 85,000 votes more than Sen. John McCain in 2008 in Orange County.
“Obama needs to do really well there,” deHaven-Smith said.
The president may need to push harder in Duval County, where he almost tied with McCain four years ago, 50 percent to 48 percent. Duval County has a largely white population that has been solidly Republican.
Gadsden County, which is a Democratic stronghold, should also be on the radar. Gadsden is unique because it is Florida’s only county boasting an African-American majority. Obama racked up 69 percent of the votes there in his first presidential run.
“The turnout was high there in 2008, when young people and minorities were mobilized big time,” deHaven-Smith said. “The question is, will they come back? They could be disappointed or not excited as in 2008.”
The professor said this is because Florida’s Legislature has acted to make it harder for people to vote early. On top of that, a controversial voter ID law may cause problems, especially for minorities.
Since taking office in 2011, Florida Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican, has shortened early voting in the state. The maximum number of early voting days has been slashed from 14 to eight. Additionally, early voting on the Sunday before Election Day has been done away with.
Florida Democrats have filed a lawsuit because of the lengthy waits for early voters.
The Miami Herald reported that figures indicate early voting is down from what it was in 2008, while absentee voting is up.
Relying on George Mason University’s United States Elections Project statistics, the Florida paper reported that nearly 2.6 million in-person early votes were cast over 14 days in Florida four years ago. This year, there have been 2.4 million. Regarding absentee ballot voting, in 2008 there were 1.7 million cast. This year, the number will be more than 2 million.
Also watch Broward County, which has the largest number of registered Democrats in the state. Democratic-leaning parts of Florida typically are the last to report their numbers.
Along with Florida, Ohio (with 18 electoral votes), Virginia (13), Wisconsin (10), Colorado (nine), Iowa (six), New Hampshire (four), North Carolina (15), Michigan (16), and Pennsylvania (20) all went Obama in 2008.
Whether Florida will make things a little bit more difficult by swinging for Romney this year, is yet to be fully seen.
Boston University's Thomas Whalen said one thing to consider in Florida is the voter turnout.
"Early voting favors Obama," he said. "The bigger the turnout, [the more] the Democrats are favored to win. It shows people from all classes – especially the middle class -- are flocking to the polls, and they tend to vote Democrat.”