It’s a hallowed political tradition: Campaigns that are losing in the polls claim their vaunted “ground games” will make up the difference, in early voting and voter mobilization on Election Day.

This time, Democrats insist that it really is going to happen — and they have new early voting numbers in Iowa, shared with this blog, that are meant to bolster their case.

The premise of the DSCC’s voter-mobilization program is that overcoming the Democrats’ “midterm voter drop-off problem” will require more than just getting out unenthusiastic voters. It will also require a hyper-targeted effort to mobilize voters who did not vote in 2010 — a very deliberate effort to expand the electorate beyond the one showing up in polls.

According to new figures from the hard-fought Iowa Senate race supplied by the DSCC, this may be happening. The DSCC says that as of yesterday, over 170,000 Iowans have already voted in 2014, a 63 percent increase over 2010. This comports with early voting numbers compiled by political scientist Michael McDonald. A DSCC official emails:

Among those ballots cast, nearly 7,000 more registered Democrats have voted than registered Republicans. Our models show that Bruce Braley has a lead of over 15,000 votes among those who have already voted, thanks to a 25-point lead among the unaffiliated voters who have already voted.

The recent Des Moines Register poll also showed Braley leading among early voters. But here’s the key nuance. The DSCC official says its model shows Dems are bringing in significantly more non-2010 voters than Republicans are:

Over 31,000 Iowans who did not vote in the last midterm election in 2010 have already cast ballots. Nearly 15,000 of these voters are registered Democrats, while just half that number are registered Republicans. Over 9,000 of these voters are unaffiliated, and our models indicate that they break toward Braley by a similar two-to-one margin. All told, Braley has a lead of over 10,000 votes among these new midterm voters.
An additional 26,000 registered Democrats who did not vote in the 2010 election have requested ballots but not yet returned them. Just 14,000 additional registered Republicans who did not vote in the 2010 election have requested ballots. And 20,000 additional unaffiliated voters who didn’t vote in 2010 have requested ballots — again, they break heavily toward Braley.

Now, a lot will turn on whether Democrats can get those voters who have merely requested ballots to send them in. But Dem efforts are premised on repeated contacts — which is to say, badgering the heck out of folks until they do.

McDonald says his analysis indicates this may go beyond Iowa: “In North Carolina and Georgia, the share of registered Democrats and African Americans who are voting is greater among those who don’t have a 2010 history than among voters that do.”

Make no mistake: Dems still face an uphill climb in Iowa and elsewhere. Even if Democrats are converting non-2010 voters, it very well may not be enough to overcome current polling deficits. Joni Ernst leads by two.

Still, as it happens, there is a way to test the DSCC’s proposition. If it is true that Dems are bringing in new voters, that might show up in polls as we get closer to election day.

“If the DSCC is successful in converting unlikely voters into votes, and the Republicans are only getting early votes from people who would have voted anyway, we should observe poll numbers start moving towards Democrats as more supporters who didn’t make the cut in polls’ likely voter models start showing up as voters,” McDonald says. “We might expect that dynamic to emerge in other states.” It’s something to watch for.

* IOWA DEBATE DECLARED A ‘DRAW’: Bruce Braley and Joni Ernst debated last night, and Iowa analysts tell the Des Moines Register that it was mostly a wash, with each side speaking to their supporters on everything from Obamacare to abortion. One interesting tidbit: Braley declared his openness to a travel ban from West Africa in response to Ebola, after Ernst had professed support for a ban.

Sean Sullivan’s takeaway: “There were no surprises — and no fatal slip-ups.”

* ONE KEY EXCHANGE FROM IOWA DEBATE: At one point, Ernst called for scrapping the IRS. Braley replied:

“Senator Ernst’s answer to everything is ‘Scrap it.’ Scrap the IRS — get rid of it. Get rid of the Department of Education. Get rid of the EPA. Get rid of the Clean Water Act. Every solution she has is throwing darts at the board, trying to get rid of programs that have had significant impacts and made a difference in the lives of Iowans.”

As I reported yesterday, Ernst has fairly stark anti-government views, and here Braley was trying to drive home that they would have actual consequences.

* GEORGIA SENATE RACE TRULY COMPETITIVE: FiveThirtyEight’s Harry Enten takes a look at the latest polling and finds that the Georgia Senate race has become really competitive now: Their model now has David Perdue with only a 1.4 point lead over Michelle Nunn, and a January runoff appears all but certain. As Enten notes, the Republican candidate won the last runoff overwhelmingly, but very different circumstances this time render the situation unpredictable.

Which means, depending on how the other races go, that there is a plausible chance we may not know who controls the Senate until next year.

* GRIMES FACES MAJOR CHALLENGE: Gallup brings new data that underscores just how hard it will be for Alison Lundergan Grimes to prevail over Mitch McConnell in deep red Kentucky:

Kentuckians are now more likely to identify as or lean toward Republicans (45%) than Democrats (39%). In the prior six years, Gallup found Democrats held at least a slight advantage…Kentucky’s 29% job approval rating for Obama in the first six months of this year is one of the lowest in the nation, and is among just a handful of states where approval has dipped below 30%.

Liberals don’t like Grimes’ reluctance to embrace Obamacare’s success in Kentucky, but figures like these help explain why the Grimes camp chose the approach they did.

* RIGHT WING GOVERNANCE ON BALLOT IN KANSAS: Trip Gabriel has an interesting piece documenting that Kansas Attorney General Kris Kobach finds himself in an unexpectedly tough reelection fight, after championing policies that have elevated him to the status of anti-illegal-immigration hero of the national right. As Gabriel reports, voters are discovering that far-right policy has consequences they don’t like.

Kansas governor Sam Brownback and Senator Pat Roberts are also fighting for their political lives, making this perhaps the highest profile example this cycle of a state where right wing governance (and not just Obama’s agenda) is on the ballot, too.

* SUPPORT BUILDS FOR TRAVEL BAN: Congressional support for a travel ban from West Africa is gathering momentum, albeit mostly in one party:

The number of lawmakers supporting travel restrictions surged Thursday to more than 70, according to a tally by The Hill. The majority of supporters are Republicans, with a just a handful of Democrats backing the idea.

Meanwhile, at least six GOP Senate candidates have injected Ebola into the Senate battle, with calls for travel bans and in a few cases by linking Ebola to the border.

* ‘WE HAVE NOTHING TO FEAR BUT PANIC ITSELF’: Related to the above: David Ignatius has a must-read on how panic about Ebola risks undermining our response to it:

Panic is a natural human response to danger, but it’s one that severely compounds the risk. Frightened people want to protect themselves, sometimes without thinking about others. Often, they get angry and want to find someone to blame for catastrophe. Inevitably, they spread information without checking whether it’s true.

One disheartening tidbit: Ignatius notes that Fox’s Shepard Smith, who has been urging calm, actually got “hammered online” for his apostasy.