Unless the polls are off like they haven’t been since 1948, tonight should bring America’s first relatively early election night in 12 years. What we might not know early: the makeup of the new Senate, the fate of California’s gay marriage initiative, and whether the Libertarian Party reaches an all-time record vote total.
There are plenty of ways to watch the election as a horse race. Jonathan Martin lists the most important counties in the swing states. John Tabin points out the close races and the signals that would hint at an Obama landslide or a McCain upset. Here’s a relatively brief rundown on what will close when, and what tea leaves to read, as well as a list of notable ballot measures.
Oh, for what it's worth: I expect Obama to win with 52 percent of the vote and 341-197 in the Electoral College, nabbing all the Kerry states plus (in order of victory margins) Iowa, New Mexico, Nevada, Colorado, Virginia, Ohio, Florida... and Montana. That's my crazy pick, that Ron Paul and Bob Barr voters will hold McCain far enough under 50 percent for the Democrats to eke out a win. I'd bet on 57 Democratic senators at the end of the night, not including independents Bernie Sanders (VT) and Joe "What Was I Thinking?" Lieberman (Conn.), 251 Democratic House members, and a net gain of one Democratic governor as they pick up Missouri.
6PM: Poll closings: Indiana, Kentucky
Presidential horse race: Both states went solidly for Bush in 2000 and 2004, but Obama has poured resources into Indiana, and McCain spent part of Monday visiting the state to shore it up. It should be too close to call. If it goes immediately for either candidate, that candidate is likely to win.
Local races: Most of the precincts in these states are on eastern standard time, including all of the precincts in Indiana-09, a southeast district held by Democrat Baron Hill. He’s being challenged by former Rep. Mike Sodrel (who was elected in 2004 on Bush’s coattails) and Libertarian Eric Schansberg, a college professor who’s running one of the strongest LP races in the country. The race for Indiana governor should be a blowout for Republican incumbent Mitch Daniels, whose comeback from an unpopular period after he privatized toll roads is one of the minor small government success stories of the year.
In the Kentucky U.S. Senate race, Republican Mitch McConnell is slightly favored to defeat businessman Bruce Lunsford. But if he does so, it’ll be thanks to a campaign of bragging about the pork he brings home. If McConnell comes back to Washington, it’ll be as a weakened figure with a shrunken majority. If you want a bellwether of how the race for the House is going, watch the fight for Indiana-03 (Fort Wayne) and Kentucky-02 (Bowling Green). Both are held by Republicans, and both were targeted by the Democrats.
7PM: Georgia, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Vermont, Virginia, and the rest of Indiana and Kentucky.
Horse race: South Carolina will go McCain, and Vermont will go Obama. If New Hampshire is called for him, it’s a good sign. If Virginia is called, it’s an excellent sign, and means that late polls showing a closer race were invalidated by an Obama turnout machine that swamped the GOP. If Georgia is called for McCain right away, it says the exact opposite.
Local races: Republican Saxby Chambliss is suddenly in a tight race for the Georgia U.S. Senate seat, thanks to his pro-bailout vote and strong challenges from the Democrats and the LP. Republican John Sununu, one of the most principled, libertarian-minded pols in Washington, has stayed close in the race for the New Hampshire U.S. Senate seat. Accidental New Hampshire-01 Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter has come back from a polling deficit in a rematch against the Republican she unseated, Jeb Bradley. It’s likely that the same party will win both races.
Republican Lindsay Graham should easily retain the South Carolina U.S. Senate seat, but his opponent is interesting: Bob Conley, a former Republican who voted for Ron Paul in the primary. Democrat Mark Warner will provide the Democrats with a Virginia U.S. Senate seat in a massive landslide, an outcome in so little doubt that it could benefit Libertarian candidate Bill Redpath. How easily the Democrats take the D.C. suburbs of Virginia-11 will be more illustrative: a novice Republican spent a lot of money to hold it.
7:30PM: North Carolina, Ohio, West Virginia
Horse race: Obama made a late push in West Virginia, but it should be called early for McCain. North Carolina and Ohio will take a while—if McCain quickly wins one of them, it augers poorly for Obama’s machine.
Local races: The Democrats are battling for rural North Carolina-08, Columbus-area Ohio-15, and Canton-area Ohio-16. Any other seat that flips, or looks close, like the D.C. exurban West Virginia-02, means it’s a good Democratic night. Watch the race for North Carolina governor to see how many votes Libertarian candidate Michael Munger pulls, and watch North Carolina-04 to see if B.J. Lawson can at least beat the Obama-McCain spread.
8:00PM: Alabama, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Tennessee