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522,719 presidential votes cast so far: Is Mitt Romney holding his own?

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For example, while only 0.4 percent of North Carolina voters have cast ballots so far, a majority of them have been Republican votes. In 2008, Democrats ended the early voting season with a majority edge. That year, Mr. Obama became the first Democrat to win North Carolina since Lyndon Johnson, by a margin of 14,000 votes.

"North Carolina was a place that they totally caught us flat-footed in 2008," Romney campaign manager Rich Beeson told the Associated Press this week. "They jumped out to a lead and never looked back. You don't see that happening this time – Republicans have the lead."

Moreover, Republican requests for ballots have increased in several Ohio counties where Obama had an edge in 2008, though that could be by virtue of a new Ohio law that mandates all voters be mailed an absentee vote request form.

Republicans also cite a 4 percentage point edge in early balloting in Florida, another battleground state. But Democrats have also picked up the early voting pace from 2008 in several battleground states, making Republican gains, at least those counted before last week’s debate, negligible.

“We’re actually seeing more registered Democrats voting in Maine, North Carolina, and Florida so far, so something is going on there that’s not being reflected in the polls,” says Mr. McDonald. “We have to remember that these are requests for ballots [instead of actual votes cast], so if the debate has actually stimulated the Republicans we should be seeing these numbers shift soon.”

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