An Election Night Guide

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Horse race: The one to watch is Pennsylvania: There’s virtually no chance for a McCain victory without it. This has been a close state every year since 1988, so a “too close to call” report at 8 p.m. will only mean that Obama didn’t run away with it.

Local races: The GOP and Democrats will start trading seats. Pennsylvania-11, a northeastern district that includes part of Scranton, will almost certainly flip to immigration restrictionist Republican Lou Barletta. Republican Tom Rooney will easily win the Florida-14 seat once held by Mark Foley. The fate of self-punishing Democratic Rep. John Murtha in Pennsylvania-12 is up in the air.

The races that the Democrats are trying to win are more heterodox. Southeastern Alabama-02 pits the culturally conservative Democratic mayor of Montgomery against a Republican trying to hold the seat. Democrat Jimes is trying to take wealthy, liberal Connecticut-04 from incumbent liberal Republican Chris Shays. Maryland-01, on the Chesapeake shoreline, wasn’t on the map until Club for Growth-backed Republican Andy Harris beat Rep. Wayne Gilchrest in the primary. Gilchrest got revenge by backing the Democrat, who could win in an upset. In Florida, Illinois, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey and Pennsylvania Democrats are trying to peel away suburban districts that they lost in the 1990s or that used to be peopled with more liberal Republicans.

The Mississippi U.S. Senate race isn’t quite a bellwhether, as incumbent Republican Roger Wicker has consistently been ahead in the polls. But if it’s close we’ll have a sign of high black turnout.

Down the ballot: For the second time this decade, Massachusetts voters will have a chance to abolish their income tax with Question One. Last time it came close to passage. This time a constellation of interests are aligned to block it. The state will decide whether to decriminalize possession of an ounce, and Michigan will also vote on a medical marijuana initiative. Illinois and Connecticut voters will decide whether they want a Constitutional convention.

8:30PM: Arkansas

Horse race: McCain should win easily.

Local races: None that will change party control.

Down the ballot: Initiative One would prevent gay couples from fostering or adopting children. It’s expected to pass.

9:00PM: Arizona, Colorado, Kansas, Louisiana, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Texas, Wisconsin, Wyoming

Horse race: Theoretically, this is the earliest hour when the election could be called. That would be if Obama romped so convincingly in Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Florida, and Ohio that they’d be called already. I doubt it’ll happen, but he will get 56 electoral votes here without even trying, McCain will get 66, and the results of New Mexico, Colorado, and Nebraska-02 – the district that covers Omaha – will probably be too close to call. If Arizona can’t be called, it’s another nail in McCain’s coffin.

Local races: The results in Arizona-01 (Flagstaff and the northeast), Colorado-04, all three New Mexico districts and the Colorado and New Mexico U.S. Senate seats will give us a sense of just how badly Republicans not named “Lou Barletta” have been screwed by Hispanic voters’ move to the Democrats. (Republicans will probably win back Tom DeLay’s old seat in Texas-22.) Democrat Tim Johnson had a stroke in early 2007 that scared off serious Republican opponents, so he should hold the South Dakota U.S. Senate seat, as should Democrat Mary Landrieu hold the Louisiana U.S. Senate seat. This is the hour when we’ll have a sense of whether Al Franken is elected to the Minnesota U.S. Senate seat.

Down the ballot: Colorado, Arizona, and Nebraska voter all get to decide on Ward Connerly-led anti-racial preferences initiatives. All will vote for them. Arizonans will also vote on Proposition 101, a “health care freedom” initiative that supporters of public health care see as a threat. Colorado voters will also decide on a right to work law. South Dakota voters will get a chance to ban the use of public funds on lobbying.

10:00PM: Iowa, Montana, Nevada, North Dakota, Utah

Horse race: In past years, this hour gave an easy three-state gain to the GOP candidate. But of these five, only Utah is now a non-competitive state. Obama is favored in Iowa and Nevada, McCain in Montana and North Dakota, but watch for the Ron Paul votes in Montana. If the man’s poll numbers hold at 5 percent, Obama could nab the state.

Local races: The Democrats are gunning for Nevada-03, a suburban Las Vegas district that’s home to Wayne Allyn Root. To a lesser extent, they hope to win Iowa-04 in the center of the state and Nevada-02 in the rural area that includes Reno.

Down the ballot: North Dakota voters will get a chance to cut their income tax in half with Measure One and to lock up their oil revenue in a trust fund with Measure 2.

11:00PM: California, Hawaii, Idaho, Oregon, Washington

Horse race: Obama will pick up 77 electoral votes at this hour, so if he’s only won the Kerry states plus Iowa and Virginia, for example, this will be the hour the networks call the election.

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