Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Election Night Viewer Guide

By Nathan L. Gonzales

So many races, so little time. With the presidential race and more than 75 competitive races for the House and Senate, it can be a little overwhelming trying to follow them all. But the polls close early in the evening in a few key states, providing a window into what the rest of election night should look like. After the initial bellwether races, you can catch a nap before the Alaska results come in early Wednesday morning.

7 p.m. Poll Closing Time

Georgia Senate. It’s ironic that one of the first races of the night could be the last race to be decided. Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R) is locked in a neck-and-neck battle with former state Rep. Jim Martin (D). If neither man gets more than 50 percent, then the race moves to a Dec. 2 runoff, when turnout is an uncertainty. Democratic strategists feel like they need to win this race today, and if they do, they could very well reach 60 seats in the Senate.

Kentucky Senate. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R) is fighting for his political life. And like Georgia, his seat is critical if Democrats want to get to 60 seats. Both McConnell and his opponent, wealthy businessman Bruce Lunsford (D), have high negatives, but McConnell comes into election night with a slight advantage. This is one state Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) should carry easily.

Kentucky’s 2nd. Republicans are trying to hold onto 20 competitive open seats, including this district. In comparison, Democrats only have one vulnerable open seat (Alabama’s 5th). State Sen. Brett Guthrie (R) is battling state Sen. David Boswell (D) in a district that President Bush carried with 65 percent in 2004. This race could be an indication of whether conservative Democrats are voting Republican like they have recently. A wide discrepancy in polling makes predicting the outcome difficult, but this early contest is a must-win for Republicans.

Virginia Presidential Outcome. Based on the other battleground states, the commonwealth is a must-win for McCain. He simply can’t afford to lose Virginia’s 13 electoral votes because he isn’t challenging Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) in a comparable Democratic state. Republican strategists are concerned that the networks will call Virginia early, dampening GOP enthusiasm in western states and hurting their candidates downballot.

7:30 p.m. Poll Closing Time

North Carolina Governor. Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory (R) is trying to buck both the national and state trend by taking over a governorship that Republicans haven’t held since the early ’90s. Coming into Election Day, McCrory is locked in a dead heat with Lt. Gov. Bev Perdue (D). McCrory could be a rare bright spot for the GOP. The presidential contest is worth watching, but if Obama wins the state’s 15 electoral votes, he probably already won Virginia and is picking out furniture for the Oval Office.

North Carolina’s 8th. Rep. Robin Hayes (R) squeaked by teacher Larry Kissell (D) in 2006, but probably comes into Election Day as an underdog. Kissell complained about the lack of help from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee two years ago, but he has received $2.4 million in help this year. Meanwhile, Hayes has been on his own, without help from the cash-strapped National Republican Congressional Committee. Like fellow Reps. Dave Reichert (R-Wash.) and Christopher Shays (R-Conn.), Hayes is also running against a strong Obama trend in his district.

Ohio’s 1st. Like Hayes, Rep. Steve Chabot (R) is no stranger to competitive races. But Democrats believe Obama will help their candidate, state Rep. Steve Driehaus, particularly because the district is 27 percent African-American. Chabot has run a good campaign and comes into Election Day even or slightly ahead of Driehaus, but with less than 50 percent of the vote in polls. If Chabot loses, Democrats are likely topping a 30-seat pickup. If Rep. Jean Schmidt (R) loses in the neighboring, and very Republican, 2nd district, Democrats are probably reaching 40 seats.

Ohio’s 15th. Republicans will lose the open 16th district, but state Sen. Steve Stivers (R) remains competitive in Rep. Deborah Pryce’s (R) open seat. Republicans drove up Franklin County Commissioner Mary Jo Kilroy’s (D) negatives, and Stivers comes into Election Day within striking distance. This race is a test of how undecided voters break in open-seat races and to see if third-party candidates are getting as much of the vote as they have been polling.

8 p.m. Poll Closing Time

Florida Presidential Outcome. If McCain holds onto Virginia, North Carolina and Ohio, the presidential race could come down to Florida. If Obama wins the Sunshine State’s 27 electoral votes, it’s almost mathematically impossible for McCain to win the presidency. The Illinois Senator comes into Tuesday with a slight lead in polls, but with less than 50 percent, so undecided voters will be critical.

Florida’s 21st and 25th. Both Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart (R) and his brother, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R), are extremely vulnerable. Bush carried both districts by at least a dozen points in 2004, but Democrats have been surging in voter registration and are benefitting from an increase in the non-Cuban Hispanic population. If both brothers win, Republicans are doing better than expected. A split decision looks most likely. But if both lose, it’s going to be a long night for the GOP.

Illinois’ 10th. Rep. Mark Kirk (R) is running for re-election in Obama’s backyard. The Congressman has run a great campaign and Democrats haven’t found the silver bullet to take him out. But Kirk will still have to run well ahead of McCain, who’ll probably lose the district by 20 points. Amazingly, Democrats could net 30 seats in the House and still not defeat Kirk.

Mississippi Senate. This is another critical seat on the Democrats’ road to 60. Republicans had been nervous that the lack of party identification would hurt their candidate this special election between appointed Sen. Roger Wicker (R) and former Gov. Ronnie Musgrove (D), but Wicker comes into Election Day with a narrow advantage in the polls. This race is a good indication of whether African-American turnout is dramatically and disproportionately larger than usual.

Pennsylvania’s 11th. Republicans are left with only a handful of good opportunities to defeat Democratic incumbents, and this is one of them. Longtime Rep. Paul Kanjorski (D) trails Hazleton Mayor Lou Barletta (R) in public and Republican polls, but the Democratic nature of the district could save him. A GOP win here won’t be enough to soothe the pain of a nationwide blood bath.

9 p.m. Poll Closing Time

Minnesota Senate. One of the cycle’s most intriguing races is coming right down to the wire with comedian Al Franken (D) and Sen. Norm Coleman (R) locked in a dead heat. Independence Party candidate Dean Barkley has drawn 12 percent to 20 percent of the vote in recent polls, meaning Coleman or Franken could win with not much more than 40 percent. Coleman’s late resurgence means Democrats need to win two out of four races to hit 60 seats: Minnesota, Kentucky, Georgia and Mississippi.

Minnesota’s 3rd. This is a great race with two great candidates in an extremely competitive district. State Rep. Erik Paulsen (R) is trying to hold yet another GOP open seat against young Iraq War veteran Ashwin Madia (D). The DCCC has been exercising its fundraising muscle here, spending $2.3 million to $776,000 for the National Republican Congressional Committee. The two candidates come into Election Day essentially tied, but in this political environment, you would rather be Madia.

Michigan’s 7th. Rep. Tim Walberg (R) is one of a large number of GOP incumbents who come into Election Day running even with their opponents, and stuck in the low to mid-40s in polls. The key is whether undecided voters break disproportionately for Walberg’s opponent, state Sen. Mark Schauer (D). The race is a tossup, but the national environment, Walberg’s showing in the polls, and the fact that McCain surrendered Michigan, gives Schauer a narrow edge.

Louisiana Senate. With so much focus on the Democratic push for 60 seats, Sen. Mary Landrieu’s (D) re-election has gone largely unnoticed. Polling is dramatically different, depending on which side of the aisle you’re sitting on. Republicans believe they are within striking distance in a state McCain should win easily. Don’t forget to peek in on this race.

Wyoming’s At-Large. Gary Trauner (D) is a good candidate who came close to winning the seat two years ago against Rep. Barbara Cubin (R). Even though it defies conventional wisdom, Trauner is actually having a more difficult time with the open seat now that the weak incumbent is retiring. Trauner has been consistently competitive in the polls, but the undecided voters are likely Republicans. If Trauner wins, Democratic gains are probably well into the 30s.

10 p.m. Poll Closing Time

Nevada’s 3rd. Rep. Jon Porter (R) resurrected his political career by attacking state Sen. Dina Titus (D). After Porter’s original Democratic opponent dropped out, Titus got into the race, and was instantly formidable because of her high profile from the 2006 gubernatorial race. But Republicans proceeded to remind voters about why they didn’t vote for her two years ago, and Porter is back in a dead heat. But he’s still in the low- to mid-40s, so again, the question is whether enough undecided voters will back the incumbent.

11 p.m. Poll Closing Time

Washington Governor. Christine Gregoire (D) and Dino Rossi (R) have been running against each other for five years, and the race has hardly budged. Gregoire prevailed in 2004 after three recounts, but could never put any distance between herself and Rossi during her first term. Obama will win the state handily, but Rossi still has an opportunity to win.

California’s 4th. Republicans shouldn’t lose this district. Democrat Charlie Brown came close to defeating Rep. John Doolittle (R) two years ago, but Doolittle was plagued by ethics questions. Now that he’s retiring, conservative state Sen. Tom McClintock (R) is trying to hold the open seat, but has run an underwhelming campaign. Brown is running again and put together the kind of campaign necessary to take advantage of the opportunity.

California’s 50th. Republicans shouldn’t lose here, either. Democrats have cried wolf in this district before, and never won it. But a recent Democratic poll showed Rep. Brian Bilbray (R) holding a narrow, 44 percent to 42 percent, lead over attorney Nick Leibham (D). The survey also showed Obama winning the district by 11 points. Bush won it by 11 points in 2004, so if the district has turned around that much, all bets are off, and Democrats could get over 40 seats.

1 a.m. Poll Closing Time.

Alaska Senate. Much of the suspense of the race was eliminated when Sen. Ted Stevens (R) was convicted on all seven counts. But his race against Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich (D) is still fascinating to see how much support Stevens still has. Former state House Minority Leader Ethan Berkowitz (D) continues to be the heavy favorite over incumbent Rep. Don Young (R) in the House race. McCain will win Alaska, but it may be months or years before we know whether this vote was the beginning or end of Gov. Sarah Palin’s (R) national profile.

This story also appeared in Roll Call on November 4, 2008. 2008 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.