SPECIAL NOTE: I probably won't be blogging the returns tomorrow. I'll be polling site monitoring for the Obama campaign from 6:00 am until 7:30 pm. Assuming I have any strength left, I'll be going to the local Obama headquarters to watch the results. That said….
UPDATE: Nate Silver probably has THE best "What To Watch For" article out there. Read it.
I predict it will not be a late night before we know our next president. In fact, it's shaping up to be a quite boring evening (but for the historical importance). For those interested in the almost-as-important Senate races and some interesting ballot initiatives on gay marriage, tomorrow night will be interesting. But otherwise, don't plan on an early morning deal like we had in 2000 and 2004.
CNN has a nice map of poll closing times, but here's a breakdown of poll closing of the key states in this election (all times are Eastern):
7:00 p.m. Indiana, Virginia
7:30 p.m. Ohio, North Carolina
8:00 p.m. Pennsylvania, Florida, Missouri
9:00 p.m. Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, North Dakota
10:00 p.m. Nevada, Montana
These times reflect when ALL the polls close in a certain state, but it should be noted that some states close polls at different times. For example, parts of Indiana close as early as 6:00, and parts of Florida close as early as 7:00. This means that counting can start earlier.
Now, the networks don't annouce results for any state until the polls close in that state. Electoral-collegely speaking, they cannot announce a "winner" until after the 10:00 polls close (there simply aren't enough EVs out there from the earlier states).
But unlike the networks, and for purposes of my analysis, I'm going to ignore the "solid" states and assume that they will break the way everybody thinks. For example, I'm going to assume that we can call California for Obama right now. In other words, let's not wait for the fat lady to sing as to these solid states, and take it as a given that she will sing.
This allows us to focus on the "battleground states", most of which are in the eastern part of the United States.
And if you are willing to accept my assumptions about solid states, there are several scenarios which portend an early night tomorrow. This is what to watch for….
7:00 pm to 7:59 pm – The "Indiana/Virginia/OH or NC" Early Ending Scenario
If the networks call Indiana and Virgina for Obama before 7:30, you can pour the victory champagne if you're in the Obama camp. But you can only pour it; not drink it.
Because if that happens — if the Indiana and Virginia are called for Obama — all Obama really needs at that point is one more victory from any ONE state on my list above that closes at 7:30 (Ohio or North Carolina).
I suspect, however, this scenario won't happen, and certainly not before 8:00. Virginia might be called for Obama between 7:00 and 8:00, but probably not Indiana (it's simply too close there).
So, as the clock ticks toward 8:00, and you don't have an "Indiana/Virginia/OH or NC" thing in the works, it might be best to turn your attention to….
7:30 pm to 9:30 pm — The "Any Two" Early Ending Scenario
Of the states listed above that close at 8:00 pm or earlier (Indiana, Virginia, Ohio, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Florida, Missouri) – if McCain loses any TWO of them, you can go to bed, even though it will be a few more hours before the networks can officially call a winner. McCain can afford to lose one of these states in order to thread the EV needle, but not two of them.
Assuming that many of these races are too close to call, another very likely "early ending" scenario to watch is…
8:00 pm to 10:00 pm — The "Virginia/Ohio/Pennsylvania Trifecta" Early Ending Scenario
If the networks call it for Obama in any TWO of Virginia, Ohio, or Pennsylvania, pour the champagne if you're in the Obama camp.
When/if the third one is called, that's when you can drink it. The election is (effectively) over. Even if McCain wins every other state listed above (including the western states listed there), he simply can't win enough electoral votes.
NOTE: You can substitute Florida for either Virginia, Ohio, or Pennsylvania, if you want. However, I think Florida has a smaller chance of being called early. Obama leads by 6-7 points in Virginia, Ohio, Pennsylvania according to the latest RCP poll averages, where as it is a true toss-up in Florida. That's why the Virginia/Ohio/PA trifecta is the most likely scenario for an early call for Obama.
Okay. There's one more scenario I'd like to throw in the mix….
Anytime — The "Georgia" Upset
Georgia is not listed in my "battleground" states above. That's because it is considered to be a "safe McCain" state. However, as "safe" states go, it's only 3-4 points in the McCain's favor.
Georgia's polls close at 7:00 pm. IF Obama manages an upset in that state (a huge IF), it is quite possible that this will be known before 10:00, and as early as 9:00.
Here's the rule of thumb: if the networks call Georgia for Obama, turn off the TV. It's over for McCain. (In fact, if the TV talking heads are using the word "upset" for ANY state in connection with an Obama win, it is over).
My personal feeling is that the networks won't be able to call the election before 10:00 pm. But I expect we will know an official winner by 10:30, even with all these close battleground states in the east (one reason is because of the massive amount of early votes, which precincts will start counting tomorrow morning).
But if 10:30 is past your bedtime (or interest level), I hope this will help you
A final caveat, which should go without saying: Remember Election Night 2000. Or the 1986 Red Sox-Mets World Series. It really isn't over until the fat lady sings.