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It’s the GOP’s turn: Florida’s early voting awash in conservative wave

The start of in-person voting today is expected to trigger a conservative wave that will build over the next two weeks and crest on Election Day.

A record-breaking surge of mail-voting Democrats in Florida has handed Joe Biden a massive lead over President Donald Trump in his must-win home state.

But here come the Republicans.

The start of in-person voting Monday is expected to trigger a conservative wave that will build over the next two weeks and crest on Election Day. Around two-thirds of participating Florida GOP voters are likely to cast a ballot in person this fall, raising the question of whether Biden, the Democratic presidential nominee, will be able to hold off a Trump comeback by the time the polls close at 7 p.m. on Nov. 3.

“Our voters have said they would like to vote in person,” said Susie Wiles, the operative leading Trump’s Florida campaign. “And our expectation is that’s what they’ll do, whether it’s early or on Election Day.”

As of Sunday, more than 1.2 million Democrats had voted by mail in Florida, compared to 754,000 Republicans. That gives Biden an enormous edge that his supporters have held up as a leading indicator that the former vice president will end Trump’s presidency by taking Florida’s 29 electoral college votes.

But if Florida turnout matches 2016, there are likely still 8 million or so ballots left to be counted over the next 15 days. And while a vast majority of Democrats are expected to vote before Election Day — with 2.6 million total requested mail ballots — a vast majority of Republicans will likely vote in-person this fall.

“What we’re seeing in the current turnout is exactly what the voters have been telling us in survey data since April,” said Ryan Tyson, a Florida pollster and registered Republican. “Republicans are going to make us wait until the end of Election Day to see if they’ve done what they need to do” to re-elect Trump.

Tyson says there’s no reason for Trump to panic about Democrats' massive mail ballot lead. Fifteen days out from Election Day in 2016, according to his data, there were about 36,000 more Republican super voters than Democratic super voters who had yet to cast ballots. This year, with 15 days to go, there are 471,000 more Republican high-propensity voters than Democrat super voters still to cast ballots.

The number of registered Republicans and Democrats is also closer than ever in Florida. This year, Republicans climbed closer to parity with Democrats than they have since the state began tracking partisan voter registration in 1972. And Trump has also come from behind once in Florida, riding a massive Election Day turnout to overcome Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s 250,000-vote advantage to win the state by almost 113,000 ballots.

Still, Democrats remain confident that they can withstand the coming Republican surge.

The party’s voters have already set a record for mail ballots cast by a single party in a Florida election. The 1.2 million who’d voted by mail as of Sunday already exceeded the high-water mark set in an entire election four years ago by Republicans.

Asked whether Democrats will be able to withstand the coming wave of Republican voters, Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez told the Miami Herald Wednesday in Wynwood that independent voters will have a say as well. He believes voters without party affiliation — 500,000 of whom had voted by mail as of Sunday — will skew towards Biden.

“The thing about it, it’s not just Democrats who are voting,” he said.

According to one Florida Democratic strategist, as of Oct. 14, about 111,000 left-leaning voters without party affiliation had voted by mail, compared to 39,000 right-leaning independents. And, the strategist said, of the first 900,000 Democratic mail ballots cast in Florida, 12% were submitted by voters who didn’t participate in the 2016 election or the 2018 midterms.

“That’s where you go from rearranging deck chairs to expanding the electorate,” said Democratic pollster Tom Eldon, who nevertheless said Democrats will keep pushing voters to participate until the polls close on Election Day. “As far as I’m concerned, Democrats can’t have a big enough lead going into Election Day. And I haven’t talked to any consultant with any intention of taking their foot off the gas.”

Tampa Bay Times elections coverage

VOTER GUIDE: Access the Tampa Bay Times’ Know Your Candidates guide at tampabay.com/voterguide.

HAVE QUESTIONS ABOUT VOTING IN FLORIDA? WE HAVE THE ANSWERS: We’ve compiled information on voter registration deadlines, rules for voting by mail and more.

AMENDMENTS: State constitutional amendments on the 2020 ballot, explained.

FELONY CONVICTION? Here are Florida’s rules for registering to vote.

MAIL-IN BALLOTS: So you want to vote by mail in Florida? Here’s what you need to know.

POSTAL SERVICE CONCERNS: What’s going on with the U.S. Postal Service and should Florida be worried?

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