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Clinton is seeing early turnout among the women and Latinos she is counting on in crucial states

Clinton is seeing early turnout among the women and Latinos she is counting on in crucial states
Hillary Clinton speaks Friday at a rally in Detroit. (Paul Sancya / Associated Press)

Donald Trump and his campaign surrogates have been banking that a cadre of voters who rarely surface at the polls will show up and buoy his campaign as it drives toward Tuesday's election.

Yet while reliably Republican voters are showing up at early-voting sites, they are being met there by a countering army: women, Latinos and other supporters of Hillary Clinton.

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The early vote is an imperfect measure of results, but two points seem clear.

The first is that an election whose negativity seemed destined to drive away more voters than it attracted has so far done the reverse, prompting a record deluge of early voting in many of the states that will decide the presidency. By Tuesday, experts estimate, as many as 40% of the eventual ballots may have already been cast.

The second is that Trump has been helpful to Clinton's efforts to increase voting among women and Latinos.

In key states like North Carolina, Nevada and Florida, gains among women and minorities have bolstered the Democrat's efforts to block Trump's avenues to victory. Trump, too, has seen big turnout increases among his targeted voters, but they have not overwhelmed the Democratic forces as some in his party had hoped.

In Nevada, a giant get-out-the-vote operation by Culinary Union Local 226, which represents casino workers, has contributed to a dominant showing for Clinton in early voting.

Half of the local's 32,500 registered voters have cast votes. Shuttles cart workers to and from voting sites. Nine hours a day, 300 volunteers knock on doors and others call voters from the union hall. The operation, which began with citizenship and voter registration drives, is aimed at union workers, their relatives and the public.

The intensity is driven in part by distaste for Trump, who has made derogatory comments about women and Latinos throughout the campaign.

"He created a climate where the election became very personal," said the local's political director, Yvanna Cancela.

When measured, enthusiasm among Democrats in Nevada ranked higher than that of Republicans, said Tom Bonier, chief executive of TargetSmart, which analyzes voter data. This is a reversal of what many polls have shown throughout the year and suggests that both candidates can count on an intensely motivated base.

Early voters are valued by both campaigns, and particularly so in this scandal-tossed year; once cast, the verdict cannot be changed if the voter's sentiment shifts, except in rare instances unlikely to affect the election's outcome. And they are also protection, particularly in the Midwestern and Northern states, against weather than might complicate efforts to get to the polls on election day.

There is no certain connection between the early-vote winners and the ultimate results. Until election day, it will be impossible to assess whether those who cast ballots early are the same ones who otherwise would have shown up on Tuesday, or whether they dramatically expanded the pool of voters. And at least one key state, Pennsylvania, has little early voting, meaning that the results will rest on Tuesday's turnout.

Clinton officials said in a conference call Friday that their early-voting efforts had targeted those who don't always show up, so that they would broaden their overall number of voters.

"Our strategy all along was not just to bank the biggest lead that we could, but to bank the voters who have the lowest propensity to turn out," Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook said.

Locking those voters down also helped free Clinton to concentrate in the final days of the race on places where the majority of votes are cast on election day. She was in Detroit and Pittsburgh on Friday and headed to New Hampshire and Philadelphia in coming days.

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"Michigan is one of these states that doesn't have early voting," she pointed out at Detroit's Eastern Market. "I've been all over the country going to states that are already voting … but Michigan votes on Tuesday."

Trump campaigned in New Hampshire and Pennsylvania on Friday, emphasizing his contention that Clinton should be disqualified from the presidency due to corruption. As he has in recent days, he also encouraged early voting.

Those studying the numbers say there has been an uptick in voters who rarely cast ballots, or who never have. The latter category is particularly valuable to Clinton, since younger voters side with her lopsidedly.

Mook portrayed the Democratic effort as a blazing success and took to task the decidedly lower-profile effort by Trump to draw out early voters.

"We have so far not seen a surge from the Trump camp and his voters," Mook said. "And if he hasn't banked his votes by this point, he's going to have an even taller task."

But if Democrats are bragging about an advantage, the numbers paint a more nuanced picture: Voting is up among many groups, including those who would be reliably considered Trump voters.

Looking at the vote in North Carolina, for example, University of Florida political scientist Michael McDonald said that the women's vote had increased 11.8% over the 2012 totals. That would aid Clinton, based on her fairly strong standing among women.

Yet at the same time the men's vote had increased by 10.4%, McDonald said. That would accrue to Trump.

Both candidates have tried to boost early voting in the last several weeks. Clinton arrived in Ohio the day before the close of registration in mid-October, and two days before the start of early voting, a travel pattern she has kept up in other states. Ohio remains one of the campaign's biggest challenges; although Democrats were catching up in early votes as the final weekend before the election neared, Republicans had outdistanced them early on.

Clinton has sent President Obama; his wife, Michelle; former President Bill Clinton; Vice President Joe Biden; and two senators — Vermont's Bernie Sanders and Massachusetts' Elizabeth Warren — to battleground states to increase early voting.

Obama won the White House twice on the strength of a muscular get-out-the-vote effort, building a coalition of African Americans, the young and women.

Clinton's desired coalition is somewhat different. The turnout rate for African Americans slumped early on, a circumstance the president's visits to important states has been meant to address. Turnout by black voters seems to have increased over the last few days.

Clinton is far more dependent than was Obama on women and Latinos — the latter a group that has not always shown up for their favored candidates. This year, however, they are.

In Florida, according to officials there, Latinos already have obliterated their turnout for the entire 2012 election. In Nevada, Cancela says she expects Latinos to make up at least 20% of the electorate, 2 points above the 2012 mark.

The results among women are striking as well.

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Of the 21 states studied by TargetSmart, women accounted for more than 55% of the electorate in 15. In North Carolina, women had cast almost 57% of the early votes, several points above their strength in voter registration. The same was true in Ohio, and in two states worrying Democrats — Wisconsin and Michigan.

Women do make up the majority of voters in those states, but in each case were showing up in proportions that exceeded their registration advantage.

In Florida, women made up 60% of the Democratic early-voting sample to less than 38% for men, a factor of 5 points over the registration gap. Women also had a gender gap of more than 4 points among Republicans and independents.

"The nearly 23-percentage-point gap among Democrats is eye-popping," said Daniel A. Smith, a University of Florida professor who analyzes voting.

The question is what proportion of the votes of different subgroups is aligning with either candidate. Clinton has made a big pitch for the support of suburban Republican women in key states, a vote that usually goes to the Republican nominee. Until the election day ballots are counted, it won't be known how successful her efforts have been.

Similarly, a boost in Democratic early voters would be a strong sign for any other party nominee. But this year, Trump has attracted many blue-collar Democrats, particularly in the Midwest, so he too could benefit from a surge in the opposite party.

In any case, by the time the polls close Tuesday, many more voters may have cast ballots than anyone might have predicted.

"There's been this theory that since the election has been so overwhelmingly negative, that would depress turnout," said Bonier. "The early-vote data suggests so far that's not the case, that we are headed toward a high-turnout election."

Twitter: @cathleendecker 

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