Dems leading in key states

Democrats are dominating early voting in six key states that President Bush won four years ago, forcing Republican John McCain to play catch-up even before Election Day arrives.

Democrats outnumber Republicans among early voters in Iowa, North Carolina, Florida, Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada, according to statistics from election and party officials in those states. Bush won all six in 2004, and McCain needs to win most of them to claim the White House this year.

As of Tuesday night, 139,178 had voted early in Mecklenburg County; about 1.5 million, in North Carolina.

Georgia, another red state, doesn't track early voters by party, but it does by race. About 1.4 million Georgians have already cast ballots, and blacks are voting in disproportionate numbers. Black voters overwhelmingly support Democrat Barack Obama, who is bidding to become the nation's first black president.

Voters can always cross party lines, but the early indications clearly favor Obama. It is unclear, however, whether they will translate into Election Day success because never before have so many Americans cast their votes before Election Day.

In Florida, for example, voting lines have been so long that Gov. Charlie Crist signed an executive order Tuesday extending early voting hours.

About a third of voters are expected to vote early this year, up from 22 percent in the last presidential election. More than 15 million voters have already cast ballots, according to statistics compiled by Michael McDonald, a political scientist at George Mason University.

He noted that Democrat John Kerry led early voting in Iowa in the 2004 presidential race, only to lose the state to Bush on Election Day.