Today, as you may have heard, is election day. Below you’ll find a guide to watching the results come in, with my predictions on key races and notes on how to interpret the results when my predictions are off the mark.
This guide is written with the following assumptions:
I won’t be mentioning every House seat that could conceivably change hands, so no assumption should necessarily be read into the omission of a particular House race.
One other important note: I believe that the primary relationship between the presidential race and downballot races will be a coattails effect — if a party is doing well in House and Senate races it’s an indicator that that party’s candidate for president will do well, and vice versa. But some have posited that in this election, the opposite might be true; ticket splitting could be common enough to reverse the coattails effect. Here’s how Mickey Kaus explains it:
[V]oters (especially white, swing voters) who don’t vote for Obama may feel guilty about it and compensate by voting for Democrats in downballot races (Senate and Congress). But the converse of this theory is equally interesting–voters who do pick Obama, may compensate or hedge for what they feel is a bold, guilt-expiating risk by picking Republicans downballot. In this theory, Obama and downballot Dems are on a see-saw: The better Obama does, the worse the downballot Dems do, and vice versa.
The reason I don’t think this will be the prevailing pattern is that I’m guessing Obama will gain more votes by increasing turnout among Democrats than he will by persuading independents, so the see-saw effect will be overwhelmed. We’ll see, as the night roles on, whether I’m right.
Senate predictions are in bold and italics. House predictions are in bold. Gubernatorial predictions are in italics. Electoral vote predictions are in bold, with M+x indicating that McCain adds x number of electoral votes to his total and O+y indicating that Obama adds y number of electoral votes to his total.
6:00 — Polls close in the Eastern Time portions of Indiana and Kentucky. The first race to keep an eye on is in Indiana’s third congressional district. A district that voted at least 2-1 for President Bush in the last two elections shouldn’t be close, but some polls have shown Democratic challenger Michael Montagano within striking distance or even ahead of incumbent Republican Mark Souder. I’m betting Souder will hang on in the end (Rep. hold). If I’m wrong: If IN-3 flips, or even if it remains too close to call long after the polls close, it could be a harbinger of a big Democratic wave in the House.
7:00 — Polls close in the rest of Indiana and Kentucky, in the Eastern Time portion of Florida, and in four more states including Georgia and Virginia. Mitch McConnell and Saxby Chambliss will hang on in Kentucky and Georgia, respectively, though the polls have been much closer than they should be (Rep. hold times 2). If I’m wrong: If McConnell and Chambliss lose, there will be a good chance of a filibuster-proof Democratic majority in the Senate.
Mark Warner will win the Senate race in Virginia (Dem. gain), and Obama will probably win Virginia’s electors (O+13). McCain will probably win in Indiana (M+11) and Georgia (M+15). If I’m wrong: If McCain can pull it out in Virginia, he still has a hope of victory — unless he doesn’t win Indiana. Georgia should be a gimme for McCain, but polls have tightened, and Libertarian candidate Bob Barr (a former congressman from Georgia) could be a spoiler if he performs well enough. If Obama can pick off Georgia, he’s got the race in the bag.
As RiShawn Biddle detailed yesterday, Gov. Mitch Daniels will be reelected in Indiana (Rep. hold). I only mention it here because if Indiana is too close to call at the presidential level, the margin in the governor’s race could give a hint as to which way the presidential race is headed. Polls indicate that Daniels should be posting a margin of victory of 20 points or more. If he seems to be underperforming that — if he’s only winning by 10 points with a large majority of precincts reporting, say — it may be a sign of increased Democratic turnout.
Several House districts in Florida will be in play this hour, including the 8th, 16th, 21st, 24th, and 25th. Democrat Tim Mahoney won the Republican-leaning 16th district after Mark Foley resigned in scandal a month before the election; there must be something in the water down there, because now Mahoney has his own scandal involving a payoff to a former mistress, and will probably lose his bid for reelection (Rep. gain). The other four are all held by Republicans, and I’m betting that they’ll split: Ric Keller and Tom Feeney will lose in the 8th and 24th, respectively (Dem. gain times 2), and brothers Lincoln Diaz-Balart and Mario Diaz-Balart will hang on in the 21st and 25th (Rep. hold times 2). If I’m wrong: the Florida house races could be an early indicator both of how big the Democratic majority in the House will be and of which way Florida’s electoral votes will go. If my predictions are wrong in one direction, it could indicate a trend, and will test the coattails vs. see-saw question discussed above.
7:30 — Polls close in Ohio and West Virginia. The former will be a squeaker, and based on the latest polls I think Obama will win by a nose after a long night of counting (O+20). McCain should win in West Virginia (M+5). If I’m wrong: Ohio is a must-win for McCain, so he keeps his chances for an upset alive if he pulls it out. West Virginia should be an early bellweather: If it’s too close to call for very long after the polls close, Obama’s in very, very good shape.
8:00 — Polls close in 15 states and the District of Columbia. The Senate race to watch this hour is New Hampshire’s rematch of the 2002 race between John Sununu and Jeanne Shaheen; Shaheen looks poised to get her revenge (Dem. gain). If I’m wrong: If Sununu hangs on he’ll defy every recent poll. New Hampshire is out of reach for McCain — ironic, considering that McCain won his primary race there and Obama lost his — so an upset would bolster the see-saw theory (that the polls make this look so improbable is another reason I’m skeptical of the see-saw idea).
The presidential battleground states to watch this hour are Missouri, Pennsylvania and Florida. I’d bet on McCain in Missouri (M+11) and Obama in Pennsylvania and Florida (O+48); I’m least confident in the Florida prediction. If I’m wrong: Missouri and Florida are two more states that McCain needs if he’s going to beat Obama. And if McCain can win Pennsylvania, he can win the election, which is why the McCain campaign made a push in the Keystone State in the closing weeks of the campaign.
House seats to keep an eye on this hour include Illinois’s 10th and 11th districts, both Republican seats that seem poised to fall (Dem. gain times 2). Chris Shays, the last House Republican in New England, is in a close race in Connecticut’s 4th district, but I’m betting he’ll pull through (Rep. hold). If I’m wrong: If Shays is knocked out, it will be because of Obama’s coattails, and a blow to see-saw theory.
8:30 — Polls close in North Carolina and Arkansas. All the action is in North Carolina, where Elizabeth Dole seems poised to lose her Senate seat to Kay Hagan (Dem. gain), Beverly Perdue has the edge of Pat McCrory in the governor’s race (Dem. hold), and Larry Kissell looks poised to pick off Rep. Robin Hayes, which he came within a few hundred votes of doing in 2006, in NC-8 (Dem. gain). I’m calling all of those races for the Democrats in part because they’ll benefit from Obama’s get out the vote (GOTV) effort, but I’m betting that Obama will fall just short of turning North Carolina blue (M+15). If I’m wrong: This is another state that may give us some insight into the coattails vs. see-saw question. If Obama wins North Carolina, or if McCain wins and Republicans do better downballot than I’m forecasting, bet on coattails. If McCain wins by a surprisingly wide margin — three recent polls show a one-point race — there may be something to the see-saw.
9:00 — Polls close in 14 states. Cousins Tom and Mark Udall are heavily favored to win their respective races for open seats in New Mexico and Colorado (Dem. gain times 2). Both of those states are likely to turn blue (O+14), but McCain should hang on to his home state of Arizona despite some uncomfortably close polls (M+10).
The really hot race this hour is in Minnesota, where Norm Coleman is defending his seat against Al Franken, with independent Dean Barkley playing spoiler (Barkley briefly held this seat in the Senate after being appointed by then-Gov. Jesse Ventura for the 2002 lame duck session between Paul Wellstone’s death and Coleman’s swearing-in). Coleman will hang on (Rep. hold). If I’m wrong: The worst nationally-syndicated host in the history of talk radio will join the Senate, and Minnesota will be demoted from “state” to “region full of idiots between Wisconsin and the Dakotas” in the minds of all right-thinking people.
10:00 — Polls close in four states (and in parts of four others). The presidential battlegrounds this hour are Montana, which still looks reddish (M+3), and Nevada, which is looking bluish (O+5). If I’m wrong: Obama can still win without Nevada, but McCain can’t win without Montana unless he’s scored an upset in Pennsylvania.
11:00 — Polls close in six states; the only one on the presidential radar is North Dakota, but even with polls showing a toss up it’s hard to believe that Obama could turn this state blue without having made much of an effort (M+3). If I’m wrong: If Obama’s winning North Dakota, it probably means he’s winning big across the country, and you’ll probably already know that by this time of the night.
The Senate race to watch this hour is in Oregon, where Jeff Merkley seems poised to unseat Republican Gordon Smith (Dem. gain). If I’m wrong: If Smith hangs on, it’s very hard to see Democrats reaching a filibuster-proof supermajority.
In Washington, Dino Rossi, who lost by only 129 votes in 2004, is making another run for the governor’s mansion, but this time Christine Gregoire has the advantage of incumbency and is likely to hang on (Dem. hold).
12:00 — Polls close in most of Alaska. (The western half of the Aleutian Islands don’t close until 1:00 AM EST, but media outlets have historically called Alaskan races in this hour.) Scandal-plagued, pork-mongering Republicans Sen. Ted Stevens and At-Large Rep. Don Young both deserve to lose, and will (Dem. gain, Dem. gain).
All that adds up to a 338-200 electoral vote victory for Barack Obama and a 7-seat gain in the Senate for Democrats, giving them 56 seats — effectively 57 seats, counting socialist independent Bernie Sanders (and 58 if you count Joe Lieberman). As for the House, the above is not a comprehensive survey of competitive races, just a sampling. My guess is that Democrats will gain at least 15 seats, making the House 251-184.