"There's probably a bit of voter fatigue," said David Kochel, Mitt Romney's lead Iowa strategist.
Early voting_ meaning absentee ballot by mail or in person — has essentially ended "Election Day" as most people have known it here. For six weeks, two spheres of political activity once wholly separate — campaigning and voting — are completely fused.
Under Iowa law, county officials can open a satellite polling place just about anywhere if they receive a petition with at least 100 signatures. Campaigns have used the provisions to strategically spot 13 "petitioned" sites in Polk County precincts rich with their voters.
For Obama, that means places such as Drake University's student center and La Tapatia Tienda Mexicana, a bustling market in the city's Capitol East neighbhood. For Romney, it means the Woodland Hills Church of Christ in suburban Pleasant Hill and the Veterans Memorial Community Center in Elkhart.
The early-voting stakes are especially high in Iowa. On Election Day 2008, Republican John McCain received more votes than Obama. But Obama won the state by 10 percentage points on the basis of his success in banking early ballots. Thirty-six percent of the Iowa electorate voted early.
Obama strategists are hoping for the same result or better this year. Field workers began canvassing neighborhoods in the spring, using the same "snowflake" organizing model they employed four years ago. They say much of their network of neighborhood team leaders remains intact. Those leaders subdivide the work among "core team members" responsible for door knocking, data entry, event planning and other grass-roots basics.
Democrats say they are encouraged by the early numbers. As of Oct. 4, they held a 2-to-1 edge in absentee ballots requested (160,285 to 82,545), according to the Iowa secretary of state's office. Democrats also are filling out ballots and returning them at a better than 3-to-1 clip (68,665 to 22,009).