If early-voting numbers reflect the political parties’ enthusiasm, then Maine Democrats are more energized about this election than their Republican rivals.
That’s what Democrats are saying about their decisive advantage in accepted absentee ballots, an early-voting method that political parties use to measure — and tout — support for their candidates and causes.
As of Monday, registered Democrats had returned 42 percent of the total of 112,322 accepted absentee ballots in Maine, compared with 28 percent by registered Republicans and 27 percent by unenrolled voters.
Thursday was the deadline for Mainers to request absentee ballots, which can be submitted until the polls close at 8 p.m. Tuesday.
Early-voting numbers have become increasingly prevalent in political campaigns, which use them to generate buzz about their message or, in some cases, counter unfavorable poll numbers.
The 2012 presidential election has been peppered with reports about early-voting tallies from swing states like Ohio and Florida.
In Maine, the Democratic Party has long held the advantage in early voting, an edge the party attributes to its door-to-door activism.
But in 2010, Republicans closed the gap in a significant way as they captured a wave of disenchantment over the economy. During the governor’s race, the Maine Republican Party frequently broadcast its edge in absentee figures. When the results were in, the party had control of the Legislature and the Blaine House for the first time in decades.
This year, the Republican Party is dismissing its lagging absentee ballot totals. David Sorensen, the party’s communications director, said it’s unfair to compare 2012 to 2010 because this is a presidential election year.
“Republicans are more old school when it comes to voting,” Sorensen said. “We like to vote in person.”
Asked why a significant number of Republicans preferred voting absentee in 2010, Sorensen said, “I think there’s something different about voting in person during a presidential year. Our voters like to go to the polls and cast their ballots.”
He said, “Maybe Democrats aren’t sentimental that way.”
Despite their advantage in early-voting numbers, Democrats are off their pace from the 2008 presidential election. As of Monday, Democratic voters had taken out 107,000 ballots.
The gap appears to feed speculation among national pollsters that Democrats are hampered by dampened enthusiasm, in particular for President Obama.
Obama enjoyed rock star-like popularity in 2008, particularly among young voters. But after nearly four years as president in a slogging economic recovery, Obama has struggled to resurrect the energy from four years ago.
Ben Grant, chairman of the Maine Democratic Party, isn’t convinced that’s the case in Maine. He said this week’s early numbers don’t capture the typical last-minute frenzy of absentee voting.
“We think we’re still on pace to reach the 2008 numbers,” he said.
Grant said he is encouraged by Monday’s early-voting data.
“It tells me that the (enthusiasm gap) isn’t happening,” he said. “It tells me that, to the extent that it was happening, our people have gotten over it. They’re fully motivated. The campaigns are very clarifying, especially at the top of the ticket in the presidential race. There’s a clear choice here and (Republican) Mitt Romney is totally unacceptable.”
Grant also attributes Democrats’ advantage to enthusiasm for the legislative races, which the party hopes will give it control of the House and Senate. Grant has repeatedly said that winning both chambers is attainable, and that winning one is critical.
Despite their disadvantage in early voting, Republicans say they’re confident about the election. Maine Republican Party Chairman Charlie Webster said Tuesday that the party will drive Election Day turnout in some surprising places to unseat incumbent Democrats.
Sorensen said he was encouraged by the large number of absentee ballots requested by unenrolled voters. He said it is good news that those voters cast ballots early, “before being exposed to some misleading attacks by outside Democratic groups.”
Staff Writer Steve Mistler can be contacted at 791-6345 or at: