This year the networks say they are guarding their exit poll results as if they were crown jewels. The results will be delivered to a "quarantine room," access to which will be granted to only two staffers from each network and wire service, who must surrender all cell phones, BlackBerrys and similar devices before entering the room.
Such precautions are designed to prevent preliminary results, often wrong in 2000 and 2004, from being posted on Web sites like the Drudge Report.
Only at 5 p.m. will the occupants of the quarantine room be allowed to reveal the exit polls to their bosses. The networks claim to have completely revamped their exit-poll methodology, which in 2004 had surveys in which the results, collected mostly by female graduate students, consistently favored Democrats. The changes will mean the networks will be slower to call the winners. That and the difficulty of adjusting for the large number of absentee ballots could mean a longer night than usual.
So how to make sense of things this election night? Don't feel obligated to listen to the endless analysis of the pundits (including me) on the networks. Consider turning down the TV to a whisper and either watching the crawl of actual returns on the bottom of the screen or monitoring them on the Internet at sites like RealClearPolitics.com.
Given that the longer election night might not suit everyone's bedtime, I've prepared an hour-by-hour guide to tonight's results to provide clues on how each major party is doing even if individual winners in races haven't been called. All times are Eastern. In a bow to tradition, we've listed states that went for George W. Bush two years ago in red and those that went for John Kerry in blue. The letters after state names indicate governor and senate races, with the incumbent party in the appropriate color (independents in black). For example, "California GS" indicates that the Golden State went for John Kerry in 2004 and has a governor's race with a Republican incumbent and a Senate race with a Democratic incumbent.
Polls close in these two states at 6 p.m. local time, which means the eastern portions will end voting at 6 EST. The key races in both states will be a bevy of close House races featuring GOP incumbents.
In Indiana, three GOP House incumbents have been trailing their Democratic challengers in October polls, albeit with survey samples so small the margin of error is large. Watch Rep. Mike Sodrel in the Ninth District. If he wins, it will mean it's unlikely Republicans will face a huge Democratic wave and lose 30 seats or more. If Rep. Chris Chocola in the Second District should survive, the GOP may wind up losing 20 seats or fewer. If Rep. John Hostettler also comes home to victory in the Eighth District, there is a good chance the GOP will retain its House majority. Indiana's Senate race isn't competitive; Republican Dick Lugar will easily win a sixth term.
Kentucky has two barn burners. Republican Rep. Anne Northup has held Louisville's Third District for five terms, but it hasn't voted Republican for president in nearly 20 years. If a she loses this time, it will an all-smiles night for Democrats. Similarly, Democrats hope that former Rep. Ken Lucas will topple freshman Republican Geoff Davis (Fourth District) in the Kentucky suburbs of Cincinnati. But should Mr. Lucas win, look for him to give Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi heartburn. He has campaigned as a down-the-line conservative.
- Florida GS
- Georgia G
- New Hampshire G
- South Carolina G
- Vermont GS
- Virginia S
At 7 p.m. we begin to get a feel for how the Senate is going. Virginia's race pits GOP incumbent George Allen against Democrat Jim Webb. This will go down to the wire. The state is still slightly Republican; the GOP has won the past three Senate races, and George W. Bush carried it, but more liberal northern Virginia now casts a third of the state's votes. If Mr. Allen loses, look the Democrats have a real chance at taking Senate control. It will also be evidence that the GOP stronghold in the South can be breached by a moderate Democrat like Mr. Webb.
In South Carolina and Florida, Gov. Mark Sanford and state Attorney General Charlie Crist are favored to keep both statehouses in the GOP column. If either loses, it will be a disastrous night for Republicans. Florida's Sen. Bill Nelson, a Democrat, will easily beat Rep. Katherine Harris. (Polls stay open one more hour in the western part of the Florida Panhandle.)
Also in Florida, a Republican gerrymander, by creating more GOP districts that are less overwhelmingly Republican, may result in Democratic House gains. Watch the seat of GOP Rep. Clay Shaw (22nd District), a 26-year veteran from Fort Lauderdale. While he is popular with constituents, they voted 52% for John Kerry. Should he lose, it will mean that anger at the GOP is great enough that even revered veterans will be going down tonight. Another endangered GOP seat is Ms. Harris's (13th District), in Sarasota. GOP candidate Vern Buchanan has been buffeted by charges that his companies moved offshore to avoid paying U.S. taxes. The GOP also is in danger of losing Mark Foley's seat (16th District). Mr. Foley's name still appears on the ballot, but if he outpolls Democrat Tim Mahoney, the seat will go to GOP nominee Joe Negron.
Georgia's Gov. Sonny Perdue, the state's first GOP governor since Reconstruction, is expected to win. The state's GOP is the beneficiary of a new congressional district map, which gives them a chance at ousting two Democratic incumbents, Jim Marshall of Macon (Third District) and John Barrow of Athens (12th). Both men face former GOP congressmen who are well known to area voters.
A rare GOP bright spot in the Northeast will be Vermont's Gov. Jim Douglas, who is expected to buck a liberal, anti-Bush tide in his state. But Vermont is expected to elevate to the Senate Rep. Bernie Sanders, an independent and self-styled socialist, to replace fellow independent Jim Jeffords.
GOP strategists are nervously watching normally Republican neighboring New Hampshire where six-term incumbent Rep. Charles Bass (Second District) is in danger of losing to the same Democrat who won only 38% against him two years ago. Gov. John Lynch, a Democrat, should easily hold the statehouse.
- North Carolina
- Ohio GS
- West Virginia S
Ohio is expected to be a meltdown state for Republicans as the twin burdens of state-level corruption by the GOP machine and a slow industrial jobs picture boost Democratic chances. It would be a minor miracle if either GOP gubernatorial nominee Ken Blackwell or Sen. Mike DeWine were to win.
The real action is in the House. Democrats are targeting five GOP seats. They are favored to win over Rep. Deborah Pryce (15th District), a member of the House GOP leadership who made the mistake of telling reporters earlier this year that then-Rep. Mark Foley was one of her best friends. Similarly, state Sen. Joy Padgett is trailing her Democratic opponent, Zack Space, in the seat that has been vacated by the disgraced Bob Ney (18th District). GOP incumbents Steve Chabot (First District), Jean Schmidt (Second) and Pat Tiberi (12th) are expected to survive narrowly, but if any one of them loses, it's a sign there's a Democratic blowout.
North Carolina Democrats are expecting to unseat Rep. Charles Taylor (11th District) in the western mountain House seat he's held for 16 years. Their candidate is former football hero Heath Shuler, an evangelical Christian who opposes abortion and gun control. If Democrats lose in this district with that kind of dream candidate, the sound you hear will be Rahm Emanuel, the Democratic Congressional Campaign chieftain, pounding the table in anger.
West Virginia rarely elects Republicans; Shelley Moore Capito (Second District) is only the second Republican to represent the state's Second District in 30 years, but she is favored to win. So is Democrat Alan Mollahan (First District), an ethically challenged Democrat who would lose to a Republican in any year but this one. Expect easy victory for pork-barrel king Sen. Robert Byrd, who turns 89 Nov. 20 and who arrived in Congress during the last weeks of the Truman administration.
- Alabama G
- Connecticut GS
- Delaware S
- Illinois G
- Kansas G
- Maine GS
- Maryland GS
- Massachusetts GS
- Michigan GS
- Mississippi S
- Missouri S
- New Jersey S
- North Dakota S
- Oklahoma G
- Pennsylvania GS
- Tennessee GS
- Texas GS
Republican hopes of holding the Senate majority will be greatly enhanced if they can hold a pair of Senate seats, in Missouri and Tennessee.
Missouri is a traditional bellwether; the only 20th-century candidate to win the presidency without carrying the Show Me State was Eisenhower in 1956. Republican Jim Talent, a narrow winner in a 2002 special election, is tied with state auditor Claire McCaskill. If Ms. McCaskill wins narrowly, look for Republicans to trumpet allegations of voter fraud and irregularities based on last week's arrest of four organizers from the liberal group Acorn on charges of voter registration fraud.
Tennessee's Senate seat should stay in Republican hands, despite an October Democratic surge. Bob Corker has opened up a lead over Rep. Harold Ford. Should Mr. Ford upset Mr. Corker and become the first black senator to be elected from a Southern state, he will instantly become a Barack Obama-like superstar--and a Democratic takeover of the Senate will be more likely than not. Tennessee's Democratic governor, Phil Bredesen, should easily win re-election.
Republicans' best chances for Senate pickups are in Maryland, New Jersey and Michigan--though the GOP candidate is an underdog in each race.
Maryland features a Democratic Party that can't quite close the sale for its candidates in a strongly liberal state. Lt. Gov. Michael Steele, who is black may yet ride his support among suburban black voters to victory over bland Democrat Rep. Ben Cardin. Meanwhile, GOP Gov. Bob Ehrlich is tied with his Democratic challenger, Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley.
New Jersey pits scandal-tarred Sen. Bob Menendez, whom Gov. Jon Corzine appointed to fill his own former seat, against Tom Kean Jr., the son of a popular former GOP governor. Mr. Menendez leads, but Mr. Kean may yet pull off an upset.
In Michigan, Sen. Debbie Stabenow has long been considered vulnerable to Republican Michael Bouchard, the sheriff of populous Oakland County outside Detroit. But Ms. Stabenow has solid union support and has kept a lead just out of reach of Mr. Bouchard and the margin of error. Put this down as a likely lost GOP opportunity, with the slightest chance of an upset still remaining. Gov. Jennifer Granholm, a Democrat, is favored against challenger Dick DeVos, though an upset is possible here too.
Connecticut features an unusual Senate race between two Democrats. Sen. Joe Lieberman is seeking re-election as an independent after losing the August primary to Ned Lamont, champion of the liberal-left "netroots." Mr. Lieberman has run well ahead in the polls, and a Lamont victory among the general electorate would be a much more shocking upset than his triumph in a closed primary.
Mr. Lieberman's strength as an independent may help three struggling GOP House incumbents: Rob Simmons (Second District), Chris Shays (Fourth) and Nancy Johnson (Fifth). Should Republicans lose two or three of those seats, it may be the death knell of the tradition of moderate Republicanism that once dominated the Northeast. Connecticut's Republican governor, Jodi Rell, should be re-elected easily.
Pennsylvania features what should have been a classic Senate race between a well-known GOP incumbent, Rick Santorum, and Bob Casey, the son of a popular late Democratic governor. But the race fizzled a bit after the tongue-tied Mr. Casey dodged most debates and performed adequately in those he did attend. Mr. Santorum who has remained an underdog for months, made a Churchillian speech charging that Mr. Casey is simply too inexperienced to be trusted to handle the terrorism issue. But if Mr. Santorum wins, it will likely be the upset of the night. Meanwhile, Gov. Ed Rendell, a Democrat, is expected to prevail against onetime Pittsburgh Steeler Lynn Swann.
In House races in the Keystone state we see the best example in the country of how a gerrymander can unravel in a bad year for the party in power. GOP strategists have already given up the seats of incumbents Don Sherwood (10th District) and Curt Weldon (Seventh), both of whom have been hit with negative publicity over personal scandals. Two other GOP incumbents, Jim Gerlach (Sixth District) and Mike Fitzpatrick (Eighth), are barely hanging on in their internal polls.
In Texas, the real battle will be over whether GOP write-in candidate Shelley Sekula-Gibbs can keep the seat of former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay in the Republican column. The district voted 65% for Mr. Bush, but he mechanics of a write-in vote may make it impossible for any candidate--especially one with three names--to defeat Democrat Nick Lampson. Gov. Rick Perry, a Republican, should win against a divided field.
Massachusetts will return to the political wasteland it normally is for GOP candidates. With the retirement of Mitt Romney as governor, Democrats are almost certain to elect Deval Patrick as their first governor in 20 years and once again to dominate state government completely.
In Illinois features two House showdowns in suburban Chicago. If Republicans lose the open seat of the retiring Henry Hyde (Sixth District), they will almost certainly suffer severe losses in other suburban strongholds around the country. Should they pull off a surprise and defeat freshman Democrat Melissa Bean (Eighth District), they have a real shot at keeping a GOP House majority.
In Kansas, if Rep. Jim Ryun, a Republican from Topeka (Second District), goes down, it will be a disaster for Republicans.
Expected to win easily are Govs. Bob Riley (R., Ala.), Rod Blagojevich (D., Ill.), Kathleen Sebelius (D., Kan.), John Baldacci (D., Maine) and Brad Henry (D., Okla.); and Sens. Tom Carper (D., Del.), Olympia Snowe (R., Maine), Ted Kennedy (D., Mass.), Trent Lott (R., Miss.), Kent Conrad (D., N.D.) and Kay Bailey Hutchison (R., Texas).
Gov. Mike Huckabee has served ten years as the state's first GOP chief executive since the 1960s. He may have presidential ambitions, but in Little Rock he leaves behind a battered state party that has been divided over his efforts to raise taxes and boost spending. Former Rep. Asa Hutchison is likely to lose to Democrat Mike Beebe. Bill Clinton will be smiling Tuesday night as his party returns to the governor's mansion.
- Arizona GS
- Colorado G
- Minnesota GS
- Nebraska GS
- New Mexico GS
- New York GS
- Rhode Island GS
- South Dakota G
- Wisconsin GS
- Wyoming GS
Two crucial Senate races are decided at this hour. In Rhode Island, conservatives who predicted that liberal Sen. Lincoln Chaffee couldn't survive the anti-incumbent tide will likely be proved right as former state Attorney General Sheldon Whitehouse is set to make state's Congressional delegation all Democratic for the first time in thirty years. A late poll by Mason-Dixon puts Mr. Chafee one point ahead of his rival, but most observers still believe the Democratic undertow will just be too great--though Gov. Don Carcieri is likely to survive it.
Arizona pits incumbent Jon Kyl against Democrat Jim Pederson. Polls show Mr. Kyl ahead, but Democrats think they have a chance of knocking him off. The GOP must win this seat to retain Senate control.
In the House, Republicans should hold the rural district in northern Arizona now held by Rep. Rick Renzi (First District). In more trouble is GOP incumbent J.D. Hayworth (Fifth District), whose bombastic style hasn't played well with the Scottsdale sophisticates in his district. Should Mr. Hayworth lose it will be a sign of a major erosion of GOP support in the land of conservative saint Barry Goldwater. A likely Democratic pickup is the Eighth District, being vacated by Rep. Jim Kolbe. Republican nominee Randy Graf is running behind Democrat Gabrielle Giffords. Gov. Janet Napolitano, a Democrat, is expected to win.
Minnesota's race for governor pits incumbent Tim Pawlenty against Democratic Attorney General Mike Hatch. Mr. Pawlenty has had a successful first term and is well-funded, but he is tied in the polls with Mr. Hatch, in just the latest example of how no GOP incumbent is truly safe this year in a state that routinely votes Democratic for president. Democratic Amy Klobuchar now seems a shoo-in against Republican Rep. Mark Kennedy for the seat of retiring Sen. Mark Dayton.
In New Mexico, GOP incumbent Heather Wilson has won five straight elections with less than 55% of the vote. If she loses this year, it will show GOP weakness with Hispanic voters. Gov. Bill Richardson and Sen. Jeff Bingaman don't face serious challenges.
Democrats are expecting a big night in New York, where Eliot Spitzer is poised to retake the governor's mansion, with Republican George Pataki retiring after three terms. In the Senate race, the only question is whether Hillary Clinton wins re-election with more than two-thirds of the vote as she prepares to run for president in 2008.
This Democratic tide leaves six GOP House seats vulnerable. Rep. Vito Fossella of Staten Island (13th District) can take no chances in a seat that leans slightly Democratic and in which he won only 59% in 2004. Reps. Sue Kelly (19th District) and John Sweeney (20th) are Hudson Valley Republicans who should stave off Democratic challengers but will have close races. Rep. Tom Reynolds (26th District) has recovered from negative publicity he received in the wake of the Mark Foley scandal and is a slight favorite to win, as is Rep. Jim Walsh of Syracuse (25th District). Democratic prosecutor Michael Arcuri has a good shot of winning the 24th District, an open GOP seat, in part because of a ham-handed GOP ad that implausibly linked him to a call made to a sex hotline.
In Wisconsin, Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle, his campaign fueled by contributions from Indian tribes to which he granted casino licenses, still leads Republican Rep. Mark Green. But Mr. Green has a chance to win if he can overcome the state's same-day voter registration problems, which in past elections have allowed phantom voters to register and vote on the same day with impunity.
In Colorado's governor's race, Democrat Bill Ritter is favored to beat Rep. Bob Beauprez. Elsewhere, easy victories are in store for Govs. Dave Heineman (R., Neb.), Mike Rounds (R., S.D.) and Dave Freudenthal (D., Wyo.); and Sens. Ben Nelson (D., Neb.), Herb Kohl (D., Wis.) and Craig Thomas (R., Wyo.)
- Idaho G
- Iowa G
- Montana S
- Nevada GS
- Utah S
If control of the U.S. Senate is still unclear at this hour, it will be decided in Montana, where gaffe-prone Sen. Conrad Burns has battled back into a tie with Democrat Jon Tester by portraying him as a tax hiker. Should Mr. Burns survive, he will be the rare GOP incumbent who ended the campaign in better shape than he began it.
The key contests to be decided this hour are governorships. Republicans are in danger of losing open races for governor in three states President Bush carried in 2004 as Reps. Jim Nussle of Iowa, Jim Gibbons of Nevada and Butch Otter of Idaho all struggle to make the transition back from Beltway office to their state capitals. Mr. Nussle trails narrowly, while Messrs. Gibbons and Otter are slight favorites.
Sen. John Ensign (R., Nev.) should dispatch Jimmy Carter's son Jack, and Sen. Orrin Hatch won't have any trouble winning a sixth term.
- California GS
- Hawaii GS
- Oregon G
- Washington S
California's bipartisan gerrymander offers only two competitive races for the House: the seats of GOP incumbents John Doolittle (Fourth District) and Richard Pombo (11th). But the crushing body slam that Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is expected to deliver to Democrat Phil Angelides should be enough ensure both men's re-election.
If Republicans win the race for lieutenant governor with conservative icon Tom McClintock, it will icing on the cake of a good evening for them in a normally liberal state. They will also gain a solid conservative front-runner for their nomination in the 2010 governor's race, when Mr. Schwarzenegger will be term-limited.
Oregon's race for governor features a hard-charging finish by Republican Ron Saxton. He may upset Democrat Ted Kulongoski, who has blundered his way through his first term.
In the Pacific Coast's only competitive Senate race, Washington Democrat Maria Cantwell looks as though she will overcome the candidacy of former corporate CEO Mike McGavick, another victim of the bad national climate that prevented many GOP challengers from achieving political altitude.
Republicans stand to do much better than expected in the race for Hawaii's Second District, being vacated by Democratic Rep. Ed Case, who lost a Senate primary. Republican Bob Hogue is running a serious and well-funded race. A popular former TV sportscaster and current state legislator, he is winning votes from supporters of the losing Democratic candidates in the September primary. The winner of that contest, former lieutenant governor Mazie Hirono, won the Democratic primary with only 22%. Ms. Hirono has a history of weak finishes. In 2002 she became the first Democrat to lose a race for governor in Hawaii in over 40 years. Mr. Hogue may come closer than anyone expects.
Hawaii's Republican Gov. Linda Lingle and Democratic Sen. Daniel Akaka won't have any trouble winning re-election.
Alaska has a genuine contest that tests the strength of the state's GOP leanings. Republican Sarah Palin, a former mayor of Wasilla, faces former governor Tony Knowles, the only Democrat to win a major statewide race in over 30 years. Ms. Palin beat Gov. Frank Murkowski in a primary, two years after Mr. Knowles lost a Senate race against the governor's daughter, Lisa.
Democrats are thrilled that their nominee for Alaska's lone House seat, Diane Benson, trails 34-year incumbent Don Young by only 48% to 41% in a new poll. Mr. Young is the chairman of the House Transportation Committee and the father of the infamous "Bridge to Nowhere." In the end, Ms. Benson probably won't knock off Mr. Young because she just isn't a serious enough candidate. A writer and actress she was the Green Party nominee for governor in 2002, winning only 1% of the vote. But she will likely put a real scare into Mr. Young, the House's most visible symbol of pork-barrel spending.