How the rise of early voting is changing campaign tactics

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Ohio voters cast their votes at the polls for early voting in the 2012 U.S. presidential election in Medina, Ohio, U.S. on October 26, 2012.     REUTERS/Aaron Josefczyk/File Photo - RTSNKB0

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JUDY WOODRUFF: Election Day may be 40 days away, but voting has already started in a number of states.

Lisa Desjardins reports on the candidates ground game.

HILLARY CLINTON (D), Presidential Nominee: I am so happy to be back here in Iowa

LISA DESJARDINS: Just hours after Iowa started early voting, Hillary Clinton was in Des Moines with a turnout push.

HILLARY CLINTON: Are you ready to go to the polls?


HILLARY CLINTON: Well, luckily in Iowa, you can start today.

LISA DESJARDINS: Performance from the state’s high-profile caucuses back in February, when she barely eked out a win over Bernie Sanders. She’s now neck and neck with Donald Trump in Iowa. The Democratic nominee is also visiting another state kicking off early voting today, Illinois, to host two fund-raisers in Chicago.

Meanwhile, Donald Trump returned to the site of his first 2016 win, New Hampshire. He cleaned up in the state’s primary, but it’s a general election tossup.

DONALD TRUMP (R), Presidential Nominee: They said the biggest single problem they have up here is heroin. If I win, I get the nomination, and I win, we’re going to build that wall, and we’re going to stop that heroin from pouring in.


LISA DESJARDINS: Away from the campaign trail, the Republican’s business investments took the spotlight. “Newsweek” reported that Trump’s hotel and casino business spent $68,000 in Cuba in the late 1990s, routing it through a third party, to try and gain a business foothold there. That apparently violated strict U.S. bans on doing any business with the communist nation.

Trump’s campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, defended him on “The View,” but she seemed to admit there was business conducted.

KELLYANNE CONWAY, Trump Campaign Manager: And it turns out that he didn’t — he decided not to invest there.


QUESTION: So, are you denying they said that — that his company spent any money in Cuba?

KELLYANNE CONWAY: I think they paid money — as I understand from the story, they paid money in 1998. We’re not supposed to talk about years ago when it comes to the Clintons.

LISA DESJARDINS: Later, Clinton weighed in.

HILLARY CLINTON: Donald Trump knew what the law was. And from everything we can tell by the investigative reporting that has been done, he deliberately flouted it.

LISA DESJARDINS: Another set of headlines today for Libertarian Gary Johnson. One big win: He earned the endorsement of The Detroit News, which called Trump unstable and possibly dangerous. It was the first time in the paper’s 143-year history that it hasn’t endorsed a Republican.

But Johnson also faced some bad press, after he was asked on MSNBC last night to name a foreign leader he respects:

GARY JOHNSON, Libertarian Presidential Nominee: I guess I’m having an Aleppo moment, and the former president of Mexico…

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC: But I’m giving you the whole world.

GARY JOHNSON: I know, I know, I know, I know.

CHRIS MATTHEWS: Anybody in the world you like, anybody. Pick any leader.

GARY JOHNSON: The former president of Mexico.

CHRIS MATTHEWS: No. Which one?

GARY JOHNSON: I’m having a brain — I’m having a brain…

CHRIS MATTHEWS: Well, name anybody.


BILL WELD, Libertarian Vice Presidential Nominee: Fox.

LISA DESJARDINS: Johnson is polling at 7 percent nationwide, much higher in a few states, but it’s not enough yet to make the stage for the second presidential debate in two weeks.

For the “PBS NewsHour,” I’m Lisa Desjardins.

JUDY WOODRUFF: All told, more than a third of all votes are expected to be cast early this year. And that math has changed the way campaigns organize.

Reporter Sasha Issenberg with Bloomberg News has been digging in on the role of early voting in this election, and he joins me now.

Sasha Issenberg, welcome.

So, this is really changing the way the campaign — the candidates and the campaigns are organized.

SASHA ISSENBERG, Bloomberg Politics: Yes, you know, within Hillary Clinton’s campaign — we saw her today. She went to Iowa to try to basically start get-out-the-vote activities five weeks before Election Day.

But within her headquarters in Brooklyn, they have basically changed the internal org chart. In past years, campaigns have split up the country by geography. They put all the Western states in one group, and they put all the Southern states in one group.

This year, she set up her pods, as they call them, separating out the early vote states. And that’s because the sort of rhythm and strategy and tactics they use there is now so different. Some of these states, it’s — you know, well over 50 percent of votes are going to be cast before Election Day. And that changes who you’re talking to and when.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, is there much more of that going on this year, Sasha, than it was in 2012?

SASHA ISSENBERG: Yes, we see steady increases.

Obviously, we won’t know until after Election Day what percentage of the vote is early, but this tends to go in one direction. You know, as people vote early, they develop a habit, much as they do with regular voting. And so early voters tend to vote early.

And a lot of states, although obviously not all, have taken strides to make it easier, so that people who can request absentee ballots don’t need excuses to do it. Some states like Ohio are now automatically sending out absentee ballots to most voters.

So, you know, in a lot of places, voters are being pushed into this, and so it could be as high as 40 percent this year of the total electorate that votes before Election Day.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, let’s talk about the difference in how these two campaigns are positioned to take advantage of this.

You just mentioned that Clinton has reorganized the way the whole campaign is organized. How about Donald Trump?

SASHA ISSENBERG: Yes, Trump’s campaign has been pretty public about the fact that they’re leaving all sorts of field activities, get-out-the-vote stuff, to the Republican National Committee and to state parties.

And this is a place where they may have different interests. You may have in, let’s say Iowa, where Chuck Grassley is running, the senator, is running for reelection, you could have voters who decided early that they are on board with Grassley, but are still undecided in the presidential race, or are considering a third-party candidate.

And if Trump is relying on the state party to turn those voters out, he could find that, you know, people aren’t necessarily voting a straight ticket when they get that reminder phone call to return their ballot.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, you’re saying really the targeted voters for the national candidates might be different from those of the state candidates.

But what about the Clinton campaign? Have they now perfected this? How would you describe how far along they are?

SASHA ISSENBERG: You know, I think that there’s been a lot of focus on this, as there was in 2012 from the Obama campaign, among Democrats, who see it as an opportunity, especially in larger, more diverse states like North Carolina, Florida, that have early voting, to use the extended period to mobilize some of the communities that are very important to the Democratic coalition, especially minorities, who are often difficult to turn out

And so, you know, we see North Carolina as a very good example of where Democrats have worked hard to move up the African-American vote, taking advantage of the multiweek early vote window. So, those people are voting in often mid-October. And as the campaign gets later, Hillary Clinton will be more likely there to speaking to sort of persuadable moderate white voters, because she will feel that she’s locked in many of the votes from her base.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, what are a couple of other swing states in this election that — where early voting, you see, could make a difference?

SASHA ISSENBERG: Nevada is a state that’s majority early vote now. They make it very easy to vote in Nevada. There are registration forms in supermarkets there. They have weekend early voting. You can vote on Saturdays in late October.

And then Colorado is sort of the, you know, extreme case of a battleground state. There is no in-person Election Day voting. Everybody gets a mail ballot. You can drop it off until, I believe, 7:00 p.m. on Election Day. But Election Day itself is an afterthought. It’s just one more day that you can drop off your absentee ballot or put it in the mail.

And so, by the time we get to Election Day in Colorado, most of the votes will be banked. And the campaigns will probably wake up on Election Day and think they know who’s won.


Well, it certainly is — we paid attention to it in 2012, but it sounds like it is much more of a factor this year.

Sasha Issenberg with Bloomberg News, we thank you.

SASHA ISSENBERG: Thank you, Judy.

The post How the rise of early voting is changing campaign tactics appeared first on PBS NewsHour.