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Early voting begins in Minnesota as midterms season enters final phase

A "Vote Here" sign marks the entrance on Thursday, Sept. 20, 2018, to an early voting station in downtown Minneapolis for Friday's opening of early voting in Minnesota. Minnesota and South Dakota are tied for the earliest start in the country for early voting in the 2018 midterm elections. (AP Photo/Steve Karnowski)

In Minnesota, the first votes of the 2018 midterm elections are being cast.

Posted: Sep 21, 2018 11:32 AM
Updated: Sep 21, 2018 11:38 AM

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Much of the political world is consumed with a battle over a Supreme Court nominee, an expanding international trade war and President Donald Trump's social media posts. Yet in Minnesota, the first votes of the 2018 midterm elections are being cast.

Voting machines are set up inside city buildings. A series of get-out-the-vote rallies is scheduled. And each party is spending millions of dollars to push its supporters to the polls.

While Election Day 2018 is technically Nov. 6, Minnesota law allows in-person voting to begin Friday — a full 46 days early — making it the first battleground state to begin casting actual votes in the broader fight for control of Congress.

Voters in every corner of the nation will soon follow.

South Dakota also opens early voting on Friday, and four more states follow in the next six days, including key states including New Jersey and Missouri. California, Montana and Arizona are among seven others that allow early voting in the subsequent two weeks.

It may feel early, but make no mistake: The final phase of the 2018 midterm season has begun.

"It's like Election Day every day," said Jake Schneider, spokesman for Minnesota Republican Senate candidate Karin Housley. "It really changes the dynamic of an election. It really does. And it's exciting."

The commencement of voting in key states underscores the heightened significance of virtually every major development — political or otherwise — on the state and national stage in the coming days. Economic indicators, the president's tweets, new revelations in the special counsel investigation and even the weather begin to matter much more as voters decide whether to go to the polls.

It's been an inauspicious beginning to the voting season for Trump and his Republican Party, which continue to struggle under the weight of near-constant self-imposed crises and chaos.

The president escalated a trade war with China in recent days, triggering new waves of concern among farmers and major employers across Minnesota and beyond. And the GOP's continued embrace of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, despite an allegation of decades-old sexual misconduct, threatens to further alienate suburban women, a key constituency this fall that has already largely turned away from Trump.

Political parties and their allies are ramping up voter outreach programs in several states to mark the beginning of the early voting phase.

The Democratic allies, Priorities USA Action and the Senate Majority PAC, for example, are launching a multimillion-dollar digital ad campaign next week as part of a voter mobilization program across five states that targets African-Americans, young Hispanics and other young people.

One of the new ads, shared with The Associated Press, highlights the rise of white supremacists in the Trump era. In another, a young black man says, "I'm willing to do whatever it takes to vote this year."

As is the case in many midterm battlegrounds, outside groups for several weeks have been dumping money into Minnesota, which features at least four competitive House elections, two U.S. Senate contests and a governor's race.

Each of the political parties deployed paid staff and volunteers on the ground several months ago to identify supporters and persuade them to vote.

Democrats are focused on turning out "communities of color" in Minnesota, particularly in the areas around Minneapolis that feature large Somali and Southeast Asian populations, according to Ramsey Reid, the Midwestern regional director for the Democratic National Committee.

Democrats are working to ensure that minorities, who are considered more sporadic voters in some cases, comprise more than 8 percent of the Minnesota electorate, Reid said, noting that they made up less than 6 percent in the last midterm elections.

Republicans are focused on trying to bank their own set of "low-propensity" voters in the initial days of early voting, a group identified through several months of on-the-ground work with its expanding network of field staff and volunteers, according to Matt Dailer, the political strategy director for the Republican National Committee.

The RNC has a permanent presence on the ground in Minnesota and 19 other early voting states, he said, noting that the GOP is running a series of nationwide get-out-the-vote tests beginning Oct. 1 to ensure its system is running smoothly.

Minnesota faces an unusually high number of competitive races this fall.

Recent polling gave narrow leads to Democratic Rep. Tim Walz in the gubernatorial race and incumbent Democratic Sen. Tina Smith in the special election to fill the final two years of Democratic former Sen. Al Franken's term, but their Republican opponents were within striking distance.

And four of the state's eight congressional races are considered tossups. Two of those races, in southern Minnesota's 1st District and northeastern Minnesota's 8th District, are for open seats held by retiring Democrats, and they afford Republicans two of their pickup opportunities in the nation. That's essentially the only place where the GOP is poised to flip a Democratic seat. In the suburban 2nd and 3rd districts, however, Democratic challengers stand good chances of defeating Republican incumbents.

Minnesota Democrats have planned an early vote campaign blitz this weekend with a series of rallies and surrogate appearances featuring people like former Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards, Nevada Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto and David Wellstone, the son of the late Minnesota Sen. Paul Wellstone.

After a Friday rally at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, Smith and other Democrats plan to encourage attendees to hop on the nearby light-rail train and head downtown to vote.

Democratic congressional candidate Angie Craig, who's taking on GOP incumbent Rep. Jason Lewis in the 2nd District, was planning her own "Early Vote Weekend of Action."

"This race will come down to who turns out to vote between Friday and Election Day," Craig told the AP. "We need every Democrat to turn out for this election."

Minnesota is among 37 states that offer "no-excuse" absentee voting or another kind of early voting this year. Roughly 40 percent of ballots nationwide were not cast in a polling place on Election Day in the 2014 and 2016 elections.

Minnesota's no-excuse absentee voting system has soared in popularity since it rolled out in 2014. Voters don't have to give a reason for voting early, as some states require, and they can change their minds until a week before Election Day.

"We no longer have an Election Day; we have an election window," said Wendy Underhill of the National Conference of State Legislatures. "It's beginning now."

___

Peoples reported from New York.

Minnesota Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 295001

Reported Deaths: 3535
CountyCasesDeaths
Hennepin624331107
Ramsey26238493
Anoka20851224
Dakota20527189
Stearns13245106
Washington13220111
St. Louis8141108
Scott798154
Wright720338
Olmsted639934
Sherburne552241
Clay473356
Carver443213
Blue Earth395813
Rice393335
Kandiyohi378719
Crow Wing344731
Nobles301429
Chisago29799
Otter Tail288820
Benton285847
Winona266629
Mower248523
Douglas242235
Polk238223
Morrison224027
Lyon206711
Beltrami202517
McLeod198511
Becker194015
Goodhue190628
Steele18336
Itasca179123
Isanti179016
Todd173912
Carlton170414
Nicollet154925
Freeborn14795
Mille Lacs145131
Le Sueur141111
Waseca135911
Cass133310
Brown131215
Pine12788
Meeker11638
Roseau11074
Hubbard107523
Martin105520
Wabasha9941
Redwood87518
Dodge8230
Chippewa8157
Watonwan8104
Cottonwood7942
Renville77322
Sibley7564
Wadena7476
Aitkin71729
Rock7149
Pipestone69618
Houston6534
Fillmore6510
Yellow Medicine61511
Pennington6137
Murray5623
Kanabec55713
Swift5448
Faribault5251
Pope5071
Clearwater4817
Stevens4813
Jackson4581
Marshall4508
Lake3916
Unassigned38659
Koochiching3675
Wilkin3605
Lac qui Parle3513
Lincoln3331
Norman3307
Big Stone2962
Mahnomen2834
Grant2566
Red Lake2033
Kittson2027
Traverse1391
Lake of the Woods941
Cook630

Iowa Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 223783

Reported Deaths: 2330
CountyCasesDeaths
Polk33166333
Linn13991164
Scott1100384
Black Hawk10795134
Woodbury10255124
Johnson940036
Dubuque913491
Story674921
Dallas629057
Pottawattamie617069
Sioux366725
Webster357033
Cerro Gordo349644
Marshall346345
Clinton322840
Buena Vista302214
Muscatine282668
Des Moines282419
Warren276411
Plymouth270641
Wapello251571
Jones228413
Jasper214643
Marion202919
Lee199416
Carroll196422
Bremer192612
Henry18107
Crawford174115
Benton167418
Tama153340
Jackson143013
Delaware141021
Washington138214
Dickinson135810
Boone134811
Mahaska126127
Wright12226
Buchanan115410
Clay11504
Hardin114010
Page11144
Hamilton11009
Clayton10875
Harrison106629
Cedar106213
Calhoun10607
Kossuth10426
Floyd103916
Mills10297
Fayette102210
Lyon10188
Butler9916
Poweshiek98213
Winneshiek95812
Iowa93012
Winnebago91323
Hancock8547
Louisa84916
Grundy84611
Chickasaw8424
Sac8407
Cherokee8214
Cass80222
Allamakee79011
Appanoose77910
Mitchell7794
Humboldt7635
Shelby76111
Union7576
Emmet74924
Guthrie74115
Franklin73421
Jefferson7062
Madison6764
Palo Alto6474
Unassigned6470
Keokuk5777
Pocahontas5572
Howard5489
Greene5170
Osceola5171
Ida48113
Clarke4774
Taylor4603
Davis4548
Montgomery45011
Monroe43912
Adair4298
Monona4272
Fremont3553
Van Buren3545
Worth3540
Lucas3226
Decatur3160
Audubon2952
Wayne2957
Ringgold2082
Adams1652
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