Yesterday, Ohio instituted same-day voter registration and an early voting window effective this year. Doing so has created a serious problem for John McCain (R) since his campaign doesn't have the infrastructure, organization, or enthusiasm to take advantage of this opportunity, particularly among college students.
As a result of its action, Ohio became the 31st state that allows early voting without an excuse (some states allow it only when a voter has a specific reason, like being out of town on Election Day). And while most states allow early voting beginning about 15 days before the general election, some have much longer windows. Ohio will allow voting as early as September 30. Iowa's window opens 40 days out, Montana and Maine are 30 days out, Wisconsin 21 days out, North Carolina 19 days out, and Nevada and New Mexico allow early voting 17 days out.
All told, 15 states that are considered competitive this year offer some form of unrestricted early voting.
But the thing you must keep in mind is that the benefit to the presidential campaigns of early voting can only be accomplished if it has a state organization that is capable of program to "bank" a meaningful number of early votes, so that it can focus its attention to more traditional GOTV tasks in the final week. Without an ample organization, a campaign is limited to simply encouraging its supporters to vote early. Only with a fairly large organization can a campaign can actually identify, push, and follow-up with those supporters who pledged to vote early.
So, let's take a look at the organizations in each of these states by the presidential candidates.
Thanks to Nate Silver's efforts, we know how many offices the Obama campaign has opened versus the numbers opened by McCain and state Republican parties (Unlike Obama, McCain is largely relying on GOP-run efforts):
Remarkably, McCain/GOP have zero, or only one, office opened in 10 of these 15 critical states.
Among those 10 states no real McCain presence are Colorado, Indiana, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, and North Dakota -- all of which are currently considered Toss-Up states (or very slightly leaning McCain) and all which voted for Bush in 2004. Together, just these 7 early-voting toss-up states account for 51 electoral votes, yet Obama has opened 61 offices versus a total of just 3 for McCain/GOP.
There are barely 80 days until the November election, and barely a month before early-voting begins in some of these states, yet the McCain campaign seems remarkably unwilling or unprepared to build crucial statewide organizations in these hyper-competitive red states.
Considering that the Bush-Cheney team prided itself on the size and strength of its field operation, it's really mind-boggling that the B team running the McCain operation (and, apparently, the RNC) is ceding such a massive on-the-ground strategic advantage to the Obama campaign, arguably the best organization ever assembled and battle-tested in presidential campaign history, especially for a challenger.
No doubt, the Obama team is spanning dozens of states with hundreds of offices ready to execute its marching orders to 1) identify supporters, 2) register new voters, 3) bank as many early votes as possible, and 4) turnout their remaining supporters on Election Day -- just as they did in the primaries.
Meanwhile, check out this incredible response by the McCain team to this enormous organizational disparity:
“When you feel like you have to put that many people in the state to cover it, means you think you’re in trouble and you have to have a surge,” said Jack Jackson, McCain’s Missouri co-chairman.
I think that remark tells the whole story. In all my years, I've never seen political malpractice of this magnitude.
(Thanks to Political Base reader JNail for pointing out the early-state rules and Silver's tally of campaign offices.)