Okay. It’s election day, and tonight many people will be watching returns.
Here are some things to watch – by hour (all times EST):
7:00pm — Polls close in Indiana, Georgia, Kentucky, South Carolina, Vermont, and Virginia.
In the presidential race, Indiana and Virginia will be the first key. Networks may not call these races early in the night, to be sure the returns match their exit polling. Georgia and Kentucky senate seats are two races to watch: Republican incumbents have small leads in late polling, but if the races are not called early for them, it could mean trouble — and an early sign of Democrats getting to 60 votes in the Senate. Also in the Senate, the open Virginia seat will turn to a Democrat easily.
7:30pm — Polls close in Ohio, North Carolina, and West Virginia.
In the presidential race, Ohio and North Carolina are two of the toss up states — both will probably not be called early. If NC is called for McCain, then we could be looking at an interesting night. If West Virginia is not called for McCain early, that could point to a larger landslide for Obama. North Carolina Senator Elizabeth Dole is in a tough fight here, and Democrat Kay Hagan is leading in late polling; but that race probably won’t be called before the presidential race.
8:00pm — Polls close in Alabama, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Washington DC.
This will be the fun time to start scanning the various networks. Although only Florida, Indiana, New Hampshire and Pennsylvania are really interesting. The presidential races in the rest of the states are probably well-known. From the Senate perspective, only New Hampshire will be interesting, but the Democrats are expected to win that seat.
By now, we should see Obama with 78 and McCain with 69 electoral votes, but a lot of states may still be shown as too close to call (Indiana, Virginia, Ohio, North Carolina, Florida, Missouri, New Hampshire, and Pennsylvania – a total of 123 electoral votes).
8:30pm — Polls close in Arkansas.
A state that should go to McCain – so no news at the bottom of the hour.
9:00pm — Polls close in Arizona, Colorado, Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Texas, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.
This is another big hour, but only Colorado is really a toss-up. Expect the rest of the states to be called for Obama or McCain. The tally of electoral votes in “called” stats should be 155 for Obama and 145 for McCain. The question will be when the earlier states will have enough returns to justify calling them for either candidate.
The Senate race in Minnesota will be interesting if Al Franken can pull off the upset. Two Democrats named Udall (first-cousins, in fact) will win open Republican Senate seats in Colorado and New Mexico. Mary Landrieu in Lousiana could be the only Democrat at risk in the Senate.
10:00pm — Polls close in Iowa, Montana, Nevada, and Utah.
Nevada has been a toss up in many polls so it may not go early, and if all of the early states are still in play, Obama will have a 162-153 lead in “called” states.
By this time, we may see some of these “too close” states called: Indiana, Virginia, Ohio, North Carolina, Florida, Missouri, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, and Colorado – a total of 132 electoral votes that could still be available.
11:00pm — Polls close in California, Hawaii, Idaho, North Dakota, Oregon, and Washington.
The Oregon Senate seat is the 9th to watch tonight – as it looks to flip to the Democrats.
Still, by the end of “prime time” in the east, 49 states and the District of Columbia will have finished voting. None of these states should be surprises, so without the “too close” states, Obama is winning 239 to 160 — and only needs 31 electoral votes to win the presidency.
1:00am — Polls close in Alaska
There are two reasons why Alaska will be interesting. First, an early victory by Obama could actually have an impact on the Senate race here. Incumbent Republican Ted Stevens is facing a tough challenge, especially after being convicted for failing to report gifts. Will Democrats stay in line late to vote against Stevens when their presidential candidate has already won? Especially when Alaska will safely vote for their favorite daughter? This could be the difference between 59 and 60 for the Democrats.
When will it end?
My guess is 11:00pm will be when we know who has won the presidential race. Networks won’t want to call many of the big states before this time, because their efforts could have an impact on voting in the Western states.
It will be an interesting night!