Dems lead early Florida vote tally; GOP has reason for optimism

An examination of the partisan breakdown of Florida's early ballot and absentee returns shows a Democratic advantage going into Election Day, but a far smaller one than enjoyed in 2008 when Barack Obama won the state on his way to the White House.

The numbers provided Sunday by the secretary of state's office show a decline in ballots returned by registered Democrats from four years ago -- and an increase in votes submitted by Republican and independent voters.

Of course, it's unknown who any of the 4.42 million voters actually voted for but registered Democrats returned 160,000 more ballots than registered Republicans. On a percentage basis, 42.8 percent of ballots came from Democrats with 39.2 percent from Republicans. Registered independent or "other" voters account for the balance of early returns, 18 percent.

The good news for Republicans is that in 2008, registered Democrats returned 45.6 percent of early and absentee ballots, with Republicans at 37.3 percent and independents at 17.1 percent. What was an 8-point spread in early votes four years ago is now only 3.6 percent.

The other factor suggesting that Republicans could surpass the apparent Democratic advantage is that in 2008 John McCain only lost the state by 2.8 percent, making up much -- though not all -- of the deficit from the early voters. That strength came from the independents, day-of voters or a combination of both that could this year give Mitt Romney the bump to Florida's 29 electoral votes.

The gross total of early voters is slightly higher from four years ago. Then it was 4.37 million voters. This year's numbers reported Sunday is expected to rise slightly as a Florida judge allowed several early polling stations to open for four extra hours.