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Democratic intensity showing up at the polls

  • Story Highlights
  • Ohio seeing unprecedented early and absentee voting
  • 22 million Democratic, 14.1 million Republican votes cast in primaries so far
  • Turnout discrepancy worries some Republicans
  • McCain ahead of or close to Democratic contenders in general election polls
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By John King
CNN Chief National Correspondent
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CINCINNATI, Ohio (CNN) -- It is a slow but steady trickle all day long at the Hamilton County Board of Elections: The Ohio presidential primary is Tuesday, but turnout is already smashing records.

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Sen. Barack Obama campaigns in Columbus, Ohio, ahead of the state's primary.

In the 2000 presidential primary campaign, 10,371 absentee ballots were requested. Four years later, there were 9,600 requests.

And this year? More than 40,000 -- just in the Cincinnati area, part of an unprecedented early and absentee voting pattern across the state.

It is in part due to aggressive pushes by both Democratic campaigns. Some Barack Obama campaign ads end with information about early voting, and to visit his Cincinnati campaign headquarters is to see an effort both to get voters to cast their ballots early and on a call-and-rides list for next Tuesday.

Ohio, it appears, will be no exception in a presidential primary season punctuated by remarkable Democratic intensity and some signs of a shrinking or changing Republican base.

"More people are telling us they are going to be voting in the Democratic primary," Eric Rademacher, associate director of the Institute for Policy Research at the University of Cincinnati tells CNN.

"And when we look at our polls over time, we are seeing a little bit of a dip in the number of people who are self identifying as Republicans."

By the numbers, Republicans have a serious case of what you might call turnout trouble.

Excluding caucuses, some 22 million Democratic votes have been cast in the primaries held to date. For Republicans, the number is 14.1 million.

One reason Republicans cite now is the fact that the Democratic contest is highly competitive while the Republican race is all but over. But GOP turnout has been down since the beginning of the year -- even when the Republican race was wide open.

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"Every coalition and every party undergoes transition over time and I think the Republican Party is undergoing such a transition," says Republican strategist Whit Ayres.

But Republicans also see an upside: Despite the clear Democratic intensity advantage, Sen. John McCain still runs statistically even or better in most of the national polls looking ahead to the general election. The latest Ohio Poll also shows McCain very competitive in the state.

"Don't lose sight of the fact that John McCain currently defeats or is very close to the two [potential] Democratic nominees in the general election polls looking forward to November," says Ayres.

"John McCain could very well be the next president of the United States based on the current polling. So that suggests whatever transition the Republicans are going through, it may very well end up being a successful transition."

Local GOP organizers say the way to overcome the Democratic advantage in intensity is through superior targeting and organizing -- and that work is well underway here even though the November election is 250 days away.

At Hamilton County Republican headquarters in Cincinnati, for example, boosting McCain's support among conservatives involves targeting voters who are known through the party's database to be regular churchgoers. Information sent to them includes details of McCain's senate record opposing abortion rights.

Independents and moderate and conservative Democrats are another target.

Maggie Nafziger, the county GOP executive director, says the database used to target such voters includes things like applications for licenses to carry a concealed weapon.

"I can find the answers to those questions on anyone in Ohio," Nafziger tells CNN. "Then we go after them." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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