Hot off the presses, here's your exclusive, before-the-fact timeline of the key moments and outcomes that will be reported on upcoming Election Night, November 6, 2012. Plan your celebrations and bathroom breaks accordingly:
(It all starts on Page 2)
6:00 PM EST: Polls close in Indiana (and Eastern Kentucky). Fox News jumps out ahead of the competition with the announcement that "Romney Wins Indiana, Leads in Electoral Vote, 11-0!" Most other networks barely notice.
6:30-7:00 PM EST: All news networks present breathtaking promo's and enticing hints that all kinds of exciting developments will be reported starting at 7:00 PM, along with approximately 150 commercials.
7:00:01 PM EST: Polls close in 6 Eastern Time Zone states, and all the networks fall all over themselves to report the immediate results of easy-call states, based on exit polling:
Georgia (16 EV) = Romney
South Carolina (9) = Romney
Kentucky (8) = Romney
Vermont (3) = Obama
Fox News commentators have actual orgasms on camera, as they report that Romney is now trouncing Obama, 44-3.
Virginia and New Hampshire are labeled too close to call, but early indications show a slight Obama lead in each. Most of Florida's polls have closed too, but with the panhandle polls still open, commentators will only wink and smile knowingly about the impending results.
7:30 PM EST: Polls close in a couple of the Biggies, Ohio and North Carolina, along with West Virginia. The networks quickly award WV's 5 EVs to Romney, but note that NC and OH are too close to call, although Fox commentators strongly hint that they expect NC to go to Romney, and "maybe a surprise" in Ohio. (Romney now leads 49-3.)
8:00:01 PM EST: Polls close in a whopping 17 states, and Wolf Blitzer stands before a map of the Eastern and Southern United States that lights up like a Christmas tree in red and blue. "CNN can now project..." he begins for the 10,000th time in his career, and all networks simultaneously claim credit for the following exit-poll driven outcomes:
Alabama (9) = Romney
Connecticut (7) = Obama
Delaware (3) = Obama
Wash. D.C. (3) = Obama
Illinois (20) = Obama
Kansas (6) = Romney
Maine (CD1, 3) = Obama
Maryland (10) = Obama
Massachusetts (11) = Obama
Mississippi (6) = Romney
Missouri (10) = Romney
New Jersey (14) = Obama
Oklahoma (7) = Romney
Tennessee (11) = Romney
Texas (38) = Romney
There is special excitement at Fox over the addition of Texas's 38 EVs, which push Romney's early advantage to a cool 136-74, and put him "half-way to the magic number of 270!"
Meanwhile, the networks note that the "expand the map" states of Michigan and Pennsylvania are initially too close to call (but they're watching each other in the background, to see who blinks first and calls one of them).
8:10 PM EST: Coming down from the sugar high of calling so many states at once, the networks look back at the running tallies for the states that actually matter. These show significant early margins for Obama in New Hampshire and Ohio, as well as a "surprising" early lead for Obama in North Carolina (based on his already-tabulated early votes), plus too-close-to-call status in Florida and Virginia.
8:20 PM EST: Several networks begin noticing Senate races. They call the safe results first: Dems Carper in Delaware and Cardin in Maryland, Stabenow in MI, Menendez in NJ, and Manchin in WV, as well as Sanders in Vermont and King in ME, together with Repubs Wicker in MS, Corker in TN, and Cruz in TX. The first exciting Senate announcement, however, is a win for Nelson in Florida, which all the pundits agree is a Big Deal. Running totals for various other Senate candidates are provided with droning commentary and anecdotes that the announcers read from cue cards handed to them by junior research aides.
8:30:01 PM EST: Polls close in lonely Arkansas (6 EVs), and Fox immediately updates its giant screen scoreboard to show Romney leading 142-74. Nobody else pays attention.
8:35 PM EST: Ominous silence descends upon Fox, while MSNBC commentators can barely contain their glee, as one network after another calls Michigan (16 EVs) for President Obama. Every commentator in the country mentions Mitt Romney's father in the same instant.
8:45 PM EST: Coming out of several commercials, Wolf Blitzer gets to be super profound and dramatic yet again, announcing the "major result" that CNN is projecting Obama will win Pennsylvania (20 EVs)! Other networks are making the same call, but Fox is mysteriously holding onto it's "too close" designation. The EV totals now show Romney leading 142-110.
8:53 PM EST: Killing time until the next poll closings, the networks catch up on various in-progress results, both for President and Senate races. NC, Florida, and Virginia remain nearly deadlocked, Ohio is looking very good for Obama, as is New Hampshire. In the Senate, Sherrod Brown (OH) is well ahead, Murphy is looking good in CT, as is Casey in PA. The remaining contests are still TCTC.
8:59 PM EST: Just before the next poll closings, ABC News jumps the gun to provide a "breaking" result: the network is calling the Indiana Senate race for Democrat Joe Donnelly! Not for the last time tonight, serious commentators will reflect on how Republicans' "misstatements" about rape could cost them control of the Senate.
9:00:01 PM EST: New poll closings in another 12 states yield a new, chaotic rush to report results -- and not-yet results -- and several more blue and red lights flash on all over the map. When the dust clears, the latest sure-thing totals reveal as follows:
Louisiana (8) = Romney
Nebraska (5) = Romney
New Mexico (5) = Obama
New York (29) = Obama
North Dakota (3) = Romney
Rhode Island (4) = Obama
South Dakota (3) = Romney
Wyoming (3) = Romney
A large segment of the Republican faithful feels a huge emotional letdown upon the addition of New York's 29 EVs to Obama's total, as if they kind of held out hope that Hurricane Sandy would somehow nullify that state's votes. Still, Fox continues to highlight Romney's continuing lead, now 164-148.
Meanwhile, the other 9:00 PM poll closing states are initially labeled TCTC: Minnesota, Wisconsin, Colorado, Arizona.
9:15 PM EST: With no more new states to add for another hour, the networks are torn between keeping viewers on the edge of their seats, and beating the competition with "breaking" results. "Breaking" wins out, as several new projected winners are offered in Senate races: Heinrich takes NM for the Dems, same for Gillebrand (NY), Kolblucher (MN) and Whitehouse (RI), while Murphy also seals the deal in CT, as does Casey in PA, but Fischer grabs Nebraska for the Republicans.
Then, adding insult to injury, the President adds Minnesota (10 EVs) to his ledger, and all the "expanded map" states are now officially in his corner. The score is now 164-158, Romney.
9:22:13 PM EST: Let it be known that CBS News is the first to announce, a full 11 second before NBC and 24 second before CNN, the first REALLY BIG NEWS OF THE NIGHT! Bob Schieffer is given the honor of the dramatic pronouncement: "CBS News can now project that President Barack Obama will ... [wait for it] ... carry the state of Ohio... " No further words are heard, as Democrats nationwide cheer in elation, and Republicans scream in agony, in many cases throwing things at their televisions. Those watching Fox, however, still think that Pennsylvania is in play.
In the Real World, with Ohio's 18 EVs, Obama has now taken the lead for the first time tonight, 176-164.
9:35 PM EST: As the network commentators try to bend over backwards to suggest that the race is "not over yet," despite the universal non-Fox call of Ohio for Obama, other results start to present themselves. The holdout of ME's CD2 (1 EV) is over (total now 177-164), and Sherrod Brown joins Obama in retaining his OH Senate seat. Then comes Tim Kaine in Virginia, another Dem keeper, which also bodes well for the President, who is clinging to a tiny lead in the vote count there. Updates on FL, and NC also continue to give the Pres a chance.
9:50 PM EST: During this long lull, the networks take a little time to present some House race results. Dems pick up some seats here and there, but lots are still too close to call. Most commentators are now fixating on Florida and Wisconsin as Romney's last, best chance to pull this election out of the fire. Fox is airing an earnest discussion about the impacts of Hurricane Sandy on Ohio and Pennsylvania voters, while quietly updating their own EV totals to reflect the consensus results of those states.
10:00:01 PM EST: The next swath of state poll closings arrives, and the insta-results are:
Idaho (4) = Romney
Montana (3) = Romney
Oregon (7) = Obama
Utah (6) = Romney
Neither Iowa nor Nevada is called right away. The EV totals now give Obama a hair-thin lead of 184-177.
10:12 PM EST: Another REALLY BIG ANNOUNCEMENT from Wolf: "CNN now projects that... in the state of Massachusetts... Democrat Elizabeth Warren has defeated... " No further words can be discerned by Dems and Repubs alike amidst the resulting cacophony.
10:21 PM EST: Interrupting video scenes of euphoria at Warren headquarters, first ABC News, then the rest in rapid succession, splash their latest "Breaking" notice on the screen: Both Nevada and Iowa (6 EVs apiece) are now being called for President Obama! Still more chaos ensues, while the EV tote board ratchets up to a 196-177 lead for the President.
10:45 PM EST: The long minutes tick away, the commentators prattle and dither, with none yet willing to pronounce the Presidential race "over". More House results come in, a few widely watched ballot initiatives are called (legalized Marijuana in CO!), and the partial results from a half-dozen states continue to nudge upward. North Carolina is past 80% of precincts counted, and still it's neck-and-neck. Some observers note that even Arizona, which was supposed to be sure Republican territory, is still too close to call, in both its Presidential and Senate races. Somebody, maybe it's Rachel Maddow, is the first to break ranks and proclaim, "This could turn out to be a very big night for the Democrats!"
11:00:01 PM EST: All Hell breaks loose. First, the polls close in California and Washington, with instant results showing wins for Obama, as well as Senators Feinstein and Cantwell. Obama's EV lead immediately jumps up to 263-177. The Horror sets in among Fox talking heads and viewers alike: with Hawaii's inevitable 4 votes going to Obama in the next hour, Romney has to run the table of all the currently Undecided states, and the ledgers in several (VA, CO, NH) are showing increasing Obama margins as the precincts trickle in.
11:14:41 PM EST: Who will take the plunge first? Let's say it's MSNBC, they've earned it. So 9 seconds before the nearest competitor, they will have the distinction of announcing that "President Obama has been declared the winner in New Hampshire, giving him a total of 267 Electoral Votes, which, when Hawaii's numbers come in, will assure him of re-election to a second term as President of the United States." Not the most "official" result, as we need to wait until midnight for the HI polls to close, but that matters to no one, as simultaneous celebrations and hair-pulling commence around the country.
11:29 PM EST: Amidst the partying among Democrats, someone points to the TV screen, where it is noted that Claire McCaskill has won re-election to the Senate in MO, thus assuring a continued Dem majority there as well. Further whoops ensue. Repubs and Fox addicts have spent the past 20 minutes vomiting, so they basically don't take notice.
11:41 PM EST: Punctuating the night's triumphs, CNN now projects that... Wisconsin has sided with the President as well! At last Paul Ryan's failure is complete! No need to wait for the Hawaiians any more, all networks can officially proclaim Obama's re-election. Yet more celebrating among Dems. Republicans have all turned off their TVs by now, and Fox is showing the faces of prospective 2016 candidates, so the fun is all on our side from here on out!
12:00 AM EST: Along with Hawaii's 4 EVs, the final results are pouring in from everywhere: Florida, Virginia, Colorado, and even North Carolina slip into Obama's column, although Arizona and of course Alaska ultimately line up for Romney. The final tally, a decisive (dare we say "landslide"?) 347-191 victory for the President.
Adding frosting on the cake, late returns give both Carmona in AZ and Tester in MT Senate wins, although Berg (ND) and Heller (NV) manage to pull out narrow Republican victories (hey, you can't get too greedy!). The resulting Senate map, nonetheless, shows 55 Dems (and allies) versus 45 Republicans. For good measure, Democrats pick up 20 seats in the House as well. But who's counting at this late hour?
12:15 AM EST: Daily Kos servers crash. Markos tells tech staff to "screw it, take the rest of the night off!"