I put together a fun election night guide for my family and friends giving highlights of each closing time. It was geared towards people who don't quite rise to the level of political obsession that most of us do, but it is still fun. My HTML formatting skills are not so good, but I will include a link to the Google document if you want to read it that way.
7 PM Eastern, 4 PM Pacific:
Indiana, Kentucky, South Carolina, Vermont, Virginia
Usually these are a boring set, with four solid red states and Vermont (which has changed its political allegiance dramatically in the past 50 years, as White Christmas fans should know). This year is different, with several states in play that could set the pace for the night.
1. Virginia: The Democrats should get their first Senate pick-up of the night when Warner is declared the winner right at 7. If they also make the call for Obama, this could be a long night for McCain. More likely Virginia returns will provide the primary interest for the first hour.
2. Indiana: Given its early closing time and first initial, Indiana is traditionally the first state called for the Republicans. If it is called for McCain right off, it is time to start worrying. This is unlikely, however, and we should be watching the Indiana count well into the evening. If it goes to Obama, McCain has lost.
3. Georgia: High black turnout in early voting and relatively close polling have some people thinking upset. This is unlikely, but if Georgia is too close to call for some time, that is very good news for Obama. Of more interest is a surprisingly tight Senate race, which will go to a runoff if neither candidate gets 50%.
4. Everything else: Vermont will almost certainly be Obama’s first three electoral votes when it is called right at 7. South Carolina and Kentucky should give McCain the early lead. If either is not called right away, that is very good news.
7:30 PM Eastern, 4:30 PM Pacific:
North Carolina*, Ohio, West Virginia
The hits keep coming with Ohio’s closing, plus North Carolina, where some polls may remain open until 8:30 (in the past cities have been able to keep polls open one hour later, but it looks like that may not be the case this year).
1. Ohio: 2004’s final state is hotly contested again, although it is only one of many potential tipping points this time. If Ohio is called early for Obama, it’s pretty much game over (both because of what it would say about overall trends and because with Ohio he could likely afford to lose Pennsylvania). If McCain gets the call early, it could be a very late (and very worrisome) night sweating out some Western states. It seems likely that Ohio will still be in the air when the election is called.
2. North Carolina: North Carolina is polling as pretty much the closest state around, so don’t expect this to be called early. This is a state that could help give Obama a big margin in the Electoral College, but it is not likely to be a tipping point state given the number of other states where Obama is polling stronger. The Senate race has recently turned against Dole, which offers another good chance for a pick-up in the Senate. The tight governor’s race is one of the GOP’s two good chances to gain at that level.
3. West Virginia: This briefly looked interesting, but is trending back to McCain. The main question is whether they can call it right away.
8 PM Eastern, 5 PM Pacific:
Alabama, Connecticut, Delaware, DC, Florida, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Tennessee
OK, let’s get the party started! A mass closing means both candidates will pick up a lot of automatic votes. Amazingly, only about three of these states look close.
1. Pennsylvania: This state goes to the top because McCain has put so much effort into it. With the polls tightening and no early voting, this is now a state to watch. If it gets called right off for Obama, McCain’s gambit will start looking pretty stupid. But it looks more and more like the counting will go on for a while (with Obama still the heavy favorite). Take heart, because even if the Keystone state somehow turns, Obama can still win this, especially if ...
2. Florida: Florida had a strong turn to Obama early in October, and has been slowly trending back, although the Dem still leads in most polls. This is a must win state for McCain, but expect the networks to take their time calling this rather than risk another 2000.
3. New Hampshire: While this is probably McCain’s second best chance of taking a state that Kerry won, that would be a huge (and likely unimportant) upset. The real interest here is the Senate race, where a rematch of 2002 is looking increasingly like a pick up for the Dems.
4. Missouri: Missouri has voted for the winner in every election since blah, blah, blah. Missouri is close, but will likely go McCain. It doesn’t matter. This is a state like North Carolina or Indiana, a potential electoral vote padder, but not a tipping point state. Of more interest is the governor’s race, where Nixon is likely to pick up the seat – but don’t worry, this time he’s on our side.
5. Everything else: Nothing to see here, move on. OK, not quite. Mississippi and Maine had Senate seats that seemed like potential pickups some time ago, Michigan used to look interesting on the presidential level, New Jersey has the closest thing to an endangered Democratic Senator, and there are probably some contested house seats in here somewhere.
8:30 PM Eastern, 5:30 PM Pacific
If North Carolina has some polls closing at this time (see note at 7:30), that is interesting. Otherwise lets just focus on watching the returns come in from the states that closed earlier.
9 PM Eastern, 6 PM Pacific
Arizona, Colorado, Louisiana, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Texas, Wisconsin, Wyoming
This hour looked much more interesting a month ago, but with the upper Midwest looking solidly like Obama country, the Mountain West is where the action is. As a side note, given the preponderance of early voting the races in Colorado and New Mexico are likely already decided as I write this.
1. Colorado: Back in the primary when Clinton supporters talked about how much better she would do in places like West Virginia and Pennsylvania, the response was that Obama would open up new places in the Mountain West. Colorado is that place. True, Bill Clinton did win it in 1992, but that was with a lot of help from Ross Perot. Increasingly this looks like an Obama state, and in a close race this is likely to be the one that puts him over the top. It also has a great chance for a Democrat named Udall to pick up a Senate seat.
2. Minnesota: McCain made a big push in Minnesota (it is where they held the convention), but it looks to have come to naught. The real interest here is the wild three-way Senate race between Norm “Ignore the first five years of my term and I look moderate” Coleman, Al “Yes my comedy appeals more to New Yorkers” Franken, and that guy that Jesse “the Body” Ventura appointed for a couple of months when Paul Wellstone died. This is truly a tossup, and with the personalities involved it should be interesting to watch.
3. New Mexico: Obama keeps looking like he will pull away here, but it has not quite happened. Still, he should win this state. Also look for a Democrat named Udall to pick up a Senate seat. No that isn’t a typo, he is a cousin of the guy running in Colorado.
4. Arizona: Recent polling has shown Arizona to be remarkably close, and Obama actually bought some ad time there this week. This was probably more for the news stories it would generate than a real chance of winning the state, but this is where the election could flip from a mere rout to utter humiliation if things are really swinging Obama’s way.
5. Everything else: There are some house seats at play, and Nebraska divides its electoral votes between congressional districts which in theory means that Obama could get one vote from Omaha, but everything else looks pretty settled.
10 PM Eastern, 7 PM Pacific
Iowa, Kansas, Montana, Nevada, Utah
With a whopping 26 electoral votes at play, this is a bit of calm before the final storm. On the other hand it does offer the last true tossup, so there is that.
1. Nevada: Nevada has been tilting towards Obama, but it remains a tossup. It does factor into most of the (unlikely) scenarios where the race ends in a 269-269 tie in the Electoral College.
2. Montana: A long-shot at best, Montana has variously looked like a tossup and a solid McCain state over the past few months. This is another state that only goes blue in a landslide.
3. Iowa: McCain has claimed this state is closer than the polls say, but you would think at least one of the polls would have picked up on that if it were true. If we are sweating Iowa, the night is going very badly.
4. Kansas: I think there is a close house race here. Um, yeah, this only gets its own line because our familial ties make me give it one.
5. Utah: This should compete with Idaho and Oklahoma for McCain’s widest margin.
11 PM Eastern, 8 PM Pacific
California, Hawaii, Idaho, North Dakota, Oregon, Washington
Not much suspense, but on a good night this should give the coup de grace to the GOP. If we are still waiting to find out who the president is until after this, it will not be because of any of these states. The real interest here is down the ballot.
1. Oregon: Another race that has likely been decided already, the Dems seem likely (but by no means certain) to pick up a Senate seat here. As always, a slew of mostly horrendous ballot measures also offer interest to those with connections to the state.
2. California: There was a time not so many months ago when the McCain campaign boldly touted its ability to compete in California. Um, not so much. The real interest here is Proposition 8, the constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage, which will be the most watched ballot measure of the year nationally.
3. Washington: The Governors race is a true tossup, and a GOP pick-up might be one of the few things to go well for them this year. There are also some good opportunities for the Democrats to pick up house seats.
4. North Dakota: This state looked close, than slid back to McCain, but recently a number of polls have shown a dead heat, sometimes with Obama in the lead. Far from a tipping point state, this would look very nice on those red/blue maps.
5. Everything else: Idaho should compete to give McCain his strongest margin. Hawaii should compete to give Obama his. Idaho actually has a close house race, which is surprising.
12 PM Eastern, 9 PM Pacific
You can see Russia from here.
1. Alaska: This is the one state where Palin has unambiguously helped McCain. Now the real excitement is in the Senate, where we will see if convicted criminal codger Ted Stevens can win reelection despite having everyone in his own party say he should resign. Also of interest, the Dems appear set to take over the lone house seat from another corrupt politician.
And so we conclude our election preview. Feel free to use this sheet on election night to stay one step ahead of the pundits! Or just keep it around to rub in my face when the whole election comes down to a recount in Alabama.
Bonus Spreadsheet with states arranged by closing that allows you to add up electoral votes (and senate seats) by entering a D or R in the win column (fun for gaming out how the night will go down).