If things go the way Hillary Clinton’s get-out-the-vote team is hoping, it might be possible to say she’s likely to become the next President of the United States before polls even open on Nov. 8.
The Democratic nominee’s strategists are carefully gaming opportunities to find and bank millions of votes before Election Day arrives. In 37 states and the District of Columbia, voters can cast ballots early with varying degrees of ease. Wisconsin, South Dakota, Minnesota, New Jersey and Vermont voters are already eligible to cast ballots. On Thursday, as Clinton touched down in Des Moines, voters in across Iowa joined their ranks and could go to elections offices to cast votes in person.
“We are starting to vote in Iowa today,” Clinton told a rally Thursday, just down the block from an early voting site. “We have—what?—40 days, 39 days left. And each and every one of you have a chance to make sure we keep our country on the right path.”
Welcome inside the Clinton campaign’s coordinated effort to get as many of its likely supporters registered to vote, and then get their ballot banked. With so much uncertainty—and Clinton’s Republican rival Donald Trump capable of almost anything—it’s a wise decision for her team to lock down as many supporters as possible, just in case. Volunteers at Clinton’s rally were ready to direct the crowd from the rally right into a voting booth.
“Luckily, you can start today. A lot of folks don’t have that opportunity across the country,” she said.
Republicans, too, were making a push for the same early voters. Trump was in the conservative western edge of Iowa a day earlier making a similar pitch at early voters, and the Republican National Committee launched a one-stop site for people to register to vote and to request an absentee ballot from coast to coast. While Democrats fare far better during early vote periods with on-the-ground work, Republicans are hoping to make inroads this time after investing heavily in technology.
One Clinton campaign official shared the thinking. More than four-in-10 Iowa voters in 2012 cast their ballots before Election Day, allowing President Obama’s re-election effort to more or less know the outcome days before polls opened. Iowans have been requesting ballots by mail; Clinton officials said Democrats had a 3-to-1 advantage in ballot requests so far. (It’s worth noting, though, that the gap in Iowa is smaller than what Obama enjoyed in his race against Republican Mitt Romney.)
Any advantage could help Clinton offset polling struggles. The Real Clear Politics average of polls in Iowa found Trump up roughly five percentage points over Clinton, who has struggled in the state in the past.
The same tactic could help Clinton in other states where she is expected to face a tough climb. The campaign earlier on Thursday said former President Bill Clinton was heading to Ohio next week to promote early voting, which starts there on Oct. 12. Her campaign advisers are worried about that state, in particular.
Other pieces of the Clinton machine have been working to promote early voting—especially in must-win demographics. Clinton’s running mate, Tim Kaine, pitched an audience at Orlando’s Iglesia El Calvario on the merits of early voting as the week started. Kaine’s stop was part of the campaign’s “Fe en Nuestro Voto,” or “Faith in Our Vote” that is roughly based on Democrats’ long-standing successes of “Souls to the Polls,” which take traditionally black churches’ congregants to vote early after Sunday services. As a result, black voters turn out to vote early more than any other demographic. Two days later, First Lady Michelle Obama was in Philadelphia urging college students to get involved.
“Early vote is a critical component of our organizing effort in all the battleground states. In Nevada and North Carolina, more than half of the state’s voters cast their ballot early,” the Clinton campaign official told reporters. “There will be a lot of focus on raw numbers but it’s not just about running up the score.”
Instead, the official continued, the campaign is looking at reaching specific voters who are likely to support Clinton but may have skipped other elections. “Once we turn out those voters,” the official said, “we can narrow our mission and turn out the remaining supporters on Election Day.”