Starting this morning in Iowa, just about every day for the next 40 is Election Day.

At 8 a.m. Central time (9 a.m. in Washington), Iowa becomes the first swing state to begin early voting, meaning that voters can walk into any of the 99 county auditors' offices or satellite polling places and cast their absentee ballots. They can also mail them.

Iowa's strategic importance has made it the focus of intense attention from both the Obama and Romney campaigns. On the surface, at least, it would appear that Obama has a significant jump on the early balloting. At close of business Tuesday, 114,585 Democrats had requested absentee ballots from election officials; compared to 22,364 Republicans, according to the office of Secretary of State Matt Schultz. That's a better than 5-to-1 margin.

On Tuesday,Obama got on the phone with The Des Moines Register to throw some more love to those with ballots, prodding voters to walk or mail them in.

“There isn’t a state that is better informed about politics,” Obama said.

The Register asked if he regarded early votes as his hedge against a deteriorating economy or international crises before Election Day. “That’s really not how we think about it,” he said. Democrats emphasize early voting, he added, because “once someone votes, we can reassess resources in our get-out-the vote efforts so that we can target more sporadic or independent voters that could make a difference.”

Republicans say the huge partisan spread in the absentee ballot requests is misleading, and will start to narrow quickly as its organizing efforts -- which include a mailing to 1 million Iowans in the next few days -- accelerate.

When Obama defeated Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz) in 2008, Iowans cast 545,000 early votes, about 30 percent of the total. That was nearly double the 276,000 early ballots cast in 2000.