The first polls close at 6 p.m. ET on Election Night, but many of the key races could take until the wee hours of the morning and beyond to decide. Benjamin Sarlin offers an hour-by-hour guide.
Indiana and its three competitive races should offer an early indicator of where things are going in the House. In order of escalating difficulty, Republicans should have little trouble winning the open seat in Indiana’s 8th District left behind by Democratic Senate candidate Brad Ellsworth, but they could have a harder time against Rep. Baron Hill in the 9th District, and an even tougher slog against Joe Donnelly in the 2nd District. According to Nathan Gonzales, political editor of the Rothenberg Political Report, “one win is a disappointment for Republicans, two means they can get the majority, and three is a great night.”
In Kentucky, if the Republicans are half as strong as analysts predict, Rep. Ben Chandler should fall to challenger Andy Barr. But the real prize would be Rep. John Yarmuth’s seat, since the incumbent Democrat has shown surprising resilience in the polls. If he goes down, expect a spectacularly bad night for Democrats.
On the Senate side, the big name is Republican Rand Paul in Kentucky. He seems to be pulling away in the polls, but will Democrat Jack Conway surprise with a boost from Bill Clinton’s recent campaigning?
7 P.M./7:30 P.M.
West Virginia’s Senate race should determine whether or not Republicans’ long-shot bid for a majority is alive. The Democratic candidate, Gov. Joe Manchin, is one of the most popular politicians in the country with his constituents, but Republican John Raese’s anti-Obama message has made it a surprisingly competitive matchup and can’t be counted out.
“If Raese wins, it could be a looong night for Democrats,” says Jennifer Duffy, Senate analyst for the Cook Political Report. According to Duffy, viewers should keep an eye on turnout across the board as well—low turnout likely favors the more motivated Republicans, while high turnout could suggest a more enthusiastic than expected Democratic base.
As for the House, the two “Jack Bauer Republicans,” Ilario Pantano in North Carolina and Allen West in Florida, each of whom survived accusations of war crimes in Iraq, are running well-funded campaigns against veteran Democrats. A win by either would indicate a big Republican night. Virginia’s House races could also prove instructive: If Democrats Gerry Connolly and Rick Boucher lose, Republicans are in good shape. If Tom Perriello, a progressive in a very tough district, somehow pulls out a win, Democrats are doing a lot better than the experts predicted. Republicans: Keep an eye on Florida’s 8th District, where you just might take out your least favorite congressman, Alan Grayson. Ohio also has a number of competitive seats—as they go, so goes the nation?
Florida’s three-way Senate race looks safely in GOP hands, but keep an eye on Florida’s gubernatorial contest, where Republican candidate and Tea Party primary insurgent Rick Scott is having a tough time against Democrat Alex Sink. A Scott win could indicate that similarly unconventional or scandal-plagued Republicans like Sharron Angle and Joe Miller might be in a better position.
If the networks don’t call Delaware’s Senate race almost immediately, consider it a moral victory for Christine O’Donnell. More important is Illinois’ Senate race between Democrat Alexi Giannoulias and Republican Mark Kirk. The GOP needs to win President Obama’s old seat to keep its dream of a majority alive.
Democrats will nervously watch the results in Massachusetts, where longtime Rep. Barney Frank has spent $200,000 of his own money defending what should be a safe seat. Scott Brown, Part Deux? Gov. Deval Patrick carries a narrow lead in the polls there in a three-way race.
In South Dakota, a win by incumbent Rep. Stephanie Herseth-Sandlin, pegged by some as a potential first female president, against charismatic Republican challenger Kristi Noem would be big for Democrats. Pennsylvania has as many as 10 seats in play, so GOP net gains of four or five keep the party on pace for a big night.
New York is fertile territory for Republicans, with a half-dozen House seats rated competitive, including NY-29, left vacant by Eric Massa (remember him?), and NY-23, where Democratic Rep. Bill Owens won a special election last year after Sarah Palin backed a third-party candidate.
“The 19th, 20th, 23rd, and 24th districts are all pretty close, and Karl Rove has been pumping a lot of money into them,” Jamie Chandler, a professor of political science at CUNY, told The Daily Beast.
If the GOP’s reporter-threatening, bestiality-photo-emailing gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino gets blown out by Andrew Cuomo as badly as the polls suggest, however, he might hurt Republicans’ chances in those races.
Colorado’s Senate race between Sen. Michael Bennet and Tea Party GOP challenger Ken Buck may be the closest in the country, and its outcome could factor heavily into the post-election spin. In addition to Buck, anti-establishment GOPers could potentially falter in Senate races in Delaware, Kentucky, Colorado, Pennsylvania, and Alaska. Any combination of Democratic wins in these states will mean a ton of pundits questioning the utility of the Tea Party in the morning.
It’s the big one: Will Sharron Angle dethrone Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in Nevada? Or will the canny political veteran survive yet another close race?
In Arizona, Democrats would love to see rising star Gabrielle Giffords survive. Progressive leader Raul Grijalva’s seat was once thought safe, but could be vulnerable. Republicans may be in danger of an upset of their own if Ben Quayle, son of former Vice President Dan Quayle, is felled by a scandal surrounding his participation in an adult-themed website. The congressional seat should easily go Republican, even in a neutral environment, but at least one poll has put Quayle behind.
It’s all about California, where Democrat Jerry Brown looks well-positioned to defeat Meg Whitman’s $140 million-plus self-financed campaign and become governor once again, but his lead in the polls is hardly prohibitive. Sen. Barbara Boxer needs to beat Republican Carly Fiorina if Democrats want to slam the door on Republican prospects for a Senate majority, Our Election Oracle rates Boxer a 70-30 favorite, but Fiorina is within the margin of error in some polls.
In Washington, only half the votes will be counted tonight, so the outcome of the crucial Senate contest between Sen. Patty Murray and Republican Dino Rossi will remain a mystery for some time. It’s currently tossup in the polls and a victory would be a coup for Republicans.
Still up? Don’t bother waiting on the wild Senate race in Alaska, where write-in ballots for Sen. Lisa Murkowski could take days to sort out. National Republicans are publicly supporting surprise primary winner Joe Miller but noticeably are focusing their attacks on Democrat Scott McAdams rather than Murkowski. Miller has a multitude of scandals surrounding his campaign—his staff handcuffed a reporter at a public event and he recently revealed he was suspended from his job for using government computers to conduct political activity—and has suffered in the polls lately. Democrats are not counting out McAdams based on the volatility of the race, but it would be one heck of an upset.
Over in Hawaii, Republican Rep. Charles Djou won his special election when two Democrats split the vote. This time he only has one opponent. Can he pull off another victory?
Benjamin Sarlin is the Washington correspondent for The Daily Beast and edits the site's politics blog, Beltway Beast. He previously covered New York City politics for The New York Sun and has worked for talkingpointsmemo.com.