Early voting has begun in the most critical state still on the table for the White House, and the initial results don’t look good for the GOP, Marc Caputo reports for Politico. Democrats have outperformed their winning position from four years ago in the results of the first day of in-person early voting. That combined with other forms of early voting might put Democrats in an actual lead in ballots cast as early as today:

Fueled by a strong first day of in-person early voting, more than 1.6 million Floridians have cast pre-Election Day ballots as Democrats threaten to overtake Republicans in the number of votes banked before Nov. 8.

Of the 1.6 million votes recorded Tuesday morning, about 665,000 were made by Florida Republicans (almost 42 percent) and 658,000 by Democrats (almost 41 percent). That means Republicans are only holding on to a margin of 0.43 percentage points in pre-Election Day ballots cast over Democrats.

The GOP lead over Democrats was 1.7 points on Monday morning, before the first in-person early voting polls opened. And at that point, on Monday, Republicans were well behind the 5 point advantage they held in pre-Election Day ballots cast during the same period of the election in 2012.

The question raised in these numbers is how many of these voters are being “cannibalized” from normal Election Day voting, rather than representing new voters. Caputo quotes a Democratic consultant who claims that 28% of Democratic returns from mail-in ballots came from first-time or “rare” voters, compared to 20% for the GOP, which would indicate a distinct advantage. That’s still not a precise measure of future outcomes, but if true, it doesn’t bode well for Republicans.

Neither do this morning’s calculations from Florida’s Division of Elections. Over 1.3 ballots have been returned by mail, with 30,982 more from GOP voters than Democrats. Democrats have 29,000+ more outstanding, but that’s not the bigger concern. As of this morning, they have a 24,000-vote lead in in-person early voting, which is the calculation Caputo notes. He also quotes the Democratic strategist in pointing out a very telling statistic:

Schale also pointed out that Democrats are turning out more voters in what’s known as the I-4 corridor, the crucial swing area of the swing state.

The seven counties of the I-4 Corridor make up the battleground for Florida. Right now, it looks like they dominate in both returned mail ballots and in early voting (rounded to nearest hundred):

  • Pinellas – D+800, D+500 in-person early voting
  • Hillsborough – D+5300, D+2800
  • Polk – R+1900, D+400
  • Osceola – D+4000, D+1000
  • Orange – D+11400, D+4400
  • Seminole – R+1400, D+200
  • Volusia – R+2800, D+400

Hillsborough is a particular worry. That is a county that Republicans should carry, and yet they’re already behind by over 8,000 votes as of this morning, at least on turnout. As I wrote in my book Going Red, not only is Hillsborough a bellwether, it provided Barack Obama with almost half of his overall lead in Florida in 2012. Those numbers suggest that the voter enthusiasm on which Republicans and Team Trump count for victory has yet to materialize.

Hillsborough gets a particular focus as a bellwether from USA Today and Alexandra Glorioso, in a profile which captures the nuances of this key I-4 Corridor county. Both campaigns have struggled to gain traction here, but Trump seems to be struggling more:

McCaughey and her nearly 840,000 fellow Hillsborough County voters are critical in the Nov. 8 presidential election. The race for the White House will be decided by voters like McCaughey, who lives in a county that has picked the winner in 19 of the last 20 presidential elections, says Steve Schale, President Obama’s 2008 Florida campaign director.

Precinct 519 is the quintessential swing precinct in the heart of the key swing region of the nation’s most important swing state. Case in point: After choosing Obama in 2012, the precinct’s voters veered hard right and elected his arch-critic Republican Rick Scott for governor in 2014. In both races, each candidate won the precinct by less than 2% of the vote.

If Hillsborough is any measure, things aren’t looking good for Republican nominee Donald Trump. A Sept. 22 poll by St. Pete Polls, a Florida-only polling firm, had Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton leading Trump in Hillsborough by 48% to 42% among 1,902 likely voters surveyed, with a 2.2-point margin of error.

Mitt Romney lost Hillsborough by six points as well, on his way to losing Florida by a point. Glorioso includes a few quotes from me, but the real value is in seeing how long-standing political alliances have been strained by this election, and why that makes Hillsborough — still — a wild card. But more so than the polls, the returns so far from early voting suggest that Election Night won’t sustain its suspense for very long. If Trump can’t win Florida, the election’s over.

Update: Buzzfeed reports that Team Hillary claims Latino early-vote turnout is, er … up:

Hillary Clinton’s campaign is touting a substantial 99% increase in Latino voting in Florida compared to this point in 2012, with 133,000 Hispanics already casting their ballot in the state, as part of its major focus on getting its base to vote early in key swing states.

The campaign included the figure it called “unprecedented” in its latest field report Monday, as early voting begins in Florida, with the 133,000 votes comprising mail-in and absentee ballots. Last week, it said that in bellwether Pinellas County in Florida, which is 10% Latino, Democrats now maintain a voter registration advantage that’s increased since March.

They’re also claiming big swings in Arizona and Nevada, too.