Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Democrats have outvoted Republicans in Florida in vote-by-mail ballots by a margin of over 400,000 as of 11am on Wednesday, according to state election data.

Why it matters: This is the first time Democrats have led over Republicans during this stage of an election, though states are expecting an unprecedented number of mail-in ballots due to the pandemic. Typically, Republicans are ahead by a slight margin in absentee ballot returns, according to Politico.

Yes, but: Republican officials say they are confident they can catch up by Election Day.

  • “Voting in Florida is a marathon. And what you’re seeing is a bit of a sprint from the Democrats,” the director of Trump's campaign in Florida, Susie Wiles, told Politico.
  • "But we have far more high-propensity voters on our side. That should be noted in all the hype about the Democrats’ lead. We’re not finished. We’re turning our sights to early in-person voting and to Election Day.

The big picture: President Trump has publicly attacked mail-in-voting, calling it fraudulent and baselessly claiming the election will be "rigged" because states that don't usually conduct vote-by-mail elections have adopted new pandemic-era systems.

  • In Florida, however, Trump has encouraged his supporters to vote by mail because "they’ve been doing this over many years, and they’ve made it really terrific."
  • House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy told Axios that Republicans "could lose" as a result of Trump's war on mail-in voting, saying that he's spent hours telling the president that this preoccupation will hurt his own re-election chances.

The bottom line: Florida, which Trump won in 2016 but looks to be a competitive race in 2020, is crucial to his re-election chances. Since 1996, every presidential candidate that has won Florida has won the election.

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Early voting eclipses 2016 total with 9 days until election

People stand in line to vote early in Fairfax, Virginia in September. Photo: Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

Americans have cast more than 58.6 million ballots in the 2020 presidential election, surpassing the total early-vote count for 2016 with 9 days left until Election Day, according to an AP tally.

Why it matters: The election is already underway, as many states have expanded early and mail-in voting options because of the coronavirus pandemic.

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Photo illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios. Photo: Chris Carlson-Pool/Getty Images

A luxe election-night watch party at the Trump International Hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue is being planned for President Trump's donors, friends and advisers — but Trump's hand in it is minimal because he's "very superstitious" — people familiar with the plans tell Axios.

The big picture: This "mecca for all things MAGA," as one adviser described it, is one of three hubs where they say Trumpworld will watch returns. The others are the war room at campaign HQ in Rosslyn, Virginia, and the White House residence, where Trump and the first lady will gather close family and advisers before heading to the hotel later that night, the sources said.

First day of N.Y. early voting sees massive turnout

New York began its early voting period on Saturday, prompting long lines with people waiting to cast their ballots.

The big picture: America has seen an uptick in mail-in and early voting this year due to the coronavirus pandemic. Social distancing and poll-worker shortages could make voting on Election Day a lengthy and potentially chaotic process, but early voting measures have still seen backlogs.