The Insider’s Guide To Watching Tonight’s Election Returns

Editor’s Note: No, we’re not calling ourselves insiders here. Instead we’ve brought in a real insider – Republican pollster Chris Wilson, of Wilson Perkins Allen Opinion Research, who has extensive expertise working races across the country. Chris isn’t going to make a bunch of predictions on races; anybody can do that. But what he will do is to tell you what to watch for as the polls start closing…

It’s finally here.  So what do political junkies look do while waiting for the polls to close?  Here’s a great Election Day playlist from Chris Cillizza who writes the indispensable political column, The Fix, at the Washington Post.

When tonight comes, following is a chronological guide to some of the races we’re following at WPA.  These races will be the stories of tonight.  I’ve also included a few key indicators to watch for:

All Times Eastern

6:00 pm

KENTUCKY (6:00/7:00)

Senate:  McConnell (R) v. Lundergan Grimes (D)

The polls in western Kentucky don’t close until 7:00, but if trends continue, the networks may be able to call this race in favor of McConnell before that.  Eastern Kentucky is coal country; watch how Obama’s war on coal impacts turnout for McConnell.

7:00 pm

FLORIDA (7:00/8:00)

Governor: Scott (R) v. Crist (D)

The final polls in the Panhandle don’t close until 8:00, but the result in the most expensive Governor’s race in history won’t be known until well after that.

In a state where both candidates are underwater in favorability, the outcome may come down to whether Gov. Rick Scott’s early investment in a strong ground game will be able to overcome the slight Democratic tilt in voter registration.


Governor: Deal (R) v. Carter (D)

Senate:  Perdue (R) v. Nunn (D)

Despite millions of dollars dumped in by national Democrats, three public polls over the final weekend all showed David Perdue leading Michelle Nunn.

Democrats are hoping that early vote returns showing the African-American vote at 2012 levels or better hold up on Tuesday. Keep an eye on the African-American vote and turnout in Atlanta proper.  Nunn and Carter need an overwhelming number of votes from the central city to offset losses in North, Middle, and South Georgia.

NEW HAMPSHIRE (7:00/8:00)

Governor: Havenstein (R) v. Hassan (D)

Senate: Brown (R) v. Shaheen (D)

Two of three female statewide office holders are running for their lives.  Some polls stay open until 8:00, but most close at 7:00.  Hillsborough County, home to Manchester and Nashua, is one of the most important swing counties in the nation.  If the Senate race gets called for Brown, the GOP wave is on.


Senate: Gillespie (R) v. Warner (D)

Ed Gillespie has put up a valiant fight, running one of the best campaigns this cycle.  It may still not be enough to offset Warner’s masterful job of distancing himself from Obama and the heavy Democrat vote in northern Virginia.

7:30 pm


Senate: Tillis (R) v. Hagan (D)

Democrats are hoping this will be a showcase for their expensive voter mobilization program.  Early voting seems to be favoring Democrats.  Watch turnout in two key areas: the Research Triangle around Raleigh and the Charlotte suburbs.  Tillis needs those Charlotte suburbs to come in big for him if he wants to win.

8:00 pm


Governor: Foley (R) v. Malloy (D)

One of the tightest races in 2010 is one of the tightest rematches in 2014.  Do pro-Malloy margins in Hartford and New Haven outweigh pro-Foley margins in the rest of the state?  The race could be decided not by whom the voters like the best, but by whom they dislike the least.


Governor:  Rauner (R) v. Quinn (D)

Senate:  Oberweis (R) v. Durbin (D)

Imagine the message if the Democrat governor in Obama’s blue home state goes down.  St Claire County, which borders St. Louis in southwest Illinois, is not only the oldest county in Illinois, but the bellwether as well.


Governor: LePage (R) v. Michaud (D) v. Cutler (I)

Senate: Collins (R) v. Bellows (D)

In a state where Independent Angus King has won races for governor and senator, 2010 candidate Eliot Cutler could be a major factor in what seems to be another close race.   The closer Cutler gets to 20 percent (or exceeds it), the better LePage does.  LePage also needs a strong showing in rural, northern Maine to offset votes in cities like Portland, Lewiston, and Bangor.


Governor: Hogan (R) v. Brown (D)

Even weeks ago, this race was on nobody’s (well, almost nobody’s) radar screen.  Larry Hogan will need strong support in the Baltimore suburbs (Anne Arundel and Baltimore counties) to offset the heavy Democratic voter registration advantage in the state.  A close race or a Hogan win sends an unwelcome message to outgoing Governor and aspiring Presidential candidate Martin O’Malley.


Governor: Baker (R) v. Coakley (D)

Is Martha Coakley the queen of the disappointing campaign loss? Coakley’s own numbers show her losing by two points in this deep blue state.

Political trivia: in the past 50 years Republicans have occupied the governorship for a longer time in Massachusetts (26 years) than in deep red Kansas (22 years).

MICHIGAN (8:00/9:00)

Governor: Snyder (R) v. Schauer (D)

Senate: Land (R) v. Peters (D)

The Senate race could be called when most polls close at 8:00, but the governor’s race will certainly be in doubt when polls in the UP close at 9:00.  This is one of the few states where Obama was welcomed to campaign for Democrats.  Watch how Snyder performs in Oakland County (Detroit suburbs).


Governor: Fung (R) v. Raimondo (D) v. Healey (M)

This one is neck-and-neck.  Fung, who has been campaigning on tax cuts and good management, might well be ahead, if it were not for Moderate Party (formerly Cool Moose Party) candidate Robert Healey.  Will voters motivated enough to turn out for a midterm really “throw away” their votes on a third-party candidate?

TEXAS (8:00/9:00)

Governor: Abbot (R) v. Davis (D)

Senate: Cornyn (R) v. Alameel (D)

If it weren’t for Dominic Recchia in New York CD-11, Wendy Davis might be the single worst prominent candidate of the year.

Early voting in Texas has been very low and Democrats seem to be staying home.  The most interesting remaining question is whether those Democrats eventually come out and what a depressed turnout means for races like Gallego (D) v. Hurd (R) in the 23rd Congressional District and key legislative swing seats around Dallas and Houston.

8:30 pm


Governor: Hutchinson (R) v. Ross (D)

Senate: Cotton (R) v. Pryor (D)

The GOP domination of the South looks nearly complete, with the final Democrat stronghold on the verge of falling.  Democrats’ only hope is for the ground game to generate enough votes, particularly among African-Americans, for Pulaski (Little Rock) and Jefferson (Pine Bluff) counties to make up nearly 20% of the statewide turnout.  What message will the loss in Arkansas of a Pryor and the Clintons’ favorite congressman (Ross) send to Hillary for 2016?

9:00 p m


Governor: Beauprez (R) v. Hickenlooper (D)

Senate: Gardner (R) v. Udall (D)

In 2010, Democrat candidate Michael Bennet pulled out a narrow victory by turning out suburban women and Hispanic voters.  Today, DSCC Chairman Bennet looks to save Hickenlooper, Udall, and Democrats nationwide by replicating his ground game model (the Bannock Street Project).

In an all-mail election a big GOP advantage in the early returns suggests that Democrats will have a long day.

Even Democrats are second guessing the “war on women” strategy that resulted in the nickname Senator “Uterus.”  Jefferson County (Denver suburbs) is the key county to watch.  If Cory Gardner wins there, expect a big Gardner victory.


Governor: Brownback (R) v. Davis (D)

Senate: Roberts (R) v. Roman (I)

Most polls in Kansas close an hour earlier, but neither of these races are expected to be decided until western Kansas comes in at 9:00.  Brownback and Roberts are both in trouble, but for very different reasons: Brownback for turning off moderate-to-liberal Republicans and Roberts for not living in the state from Kansas.  Any GOP loss will be less about the red-state nature of Kansas as it will be about two problematic candidates.


Senate: Cassidy (R) V. Landrieu (D)

Few observers expect any of the candidates to receive the 50 percent plus one majority needed to win the jungle primary, so a December runoff is anticipated.  Landrieu needs high turnout among African-American voters in and around New Orleans to somehow steal a 50% victory on Tuesday, which may explain her blaming the unpopularity of Obama (and her) on racism and sexism.  If Landrieu doesn’t win in November, the polls strongly favor Cassidy in the runoff.


Governor: Johnson (R) v. Dayton (D)

Senate: McFadden (R) v. Franken (D)

The sleepiest Governor/U.S. Senate combo in the country.  Minnesota has a history of tight races (see Governor 2010, Senate 2008).  The traditional Democrat stronghold in northern Minnesota turning purple has freshman Rep. Rick Nolan running for his political life.  If Johnson and McFadden each pull within 5 points, national Republicans will be wondering if they missed an opportunity here.


Governor: Walker (R) v. Burke (D)

This is Scott Walker’s third statewide race in four years.  Walker will be looking for high base turnout in Waukesha County to counter liberal votes in Dane and Milwaukee counties.  The bellwether may be Brown County (Green Bay), the fourth largest county in the state.

SOUTH DAKOTA  (8:00/9:00)

Senate: Rounds (R) v. Weiland (D) v. Pressler (I)

Polls around the state close at both 8:00 and 9:00.  It seems the momentary excitement surrounding a few closer than expected polls has died down.  If either Weiland or Pressler have a prayer, they each need a terrific showing in Minnehaha County, which Obama narrowly won in 2008.  Despite a lackluster campaign, however, Rounds is still expected to switch this seat to the GOP column.

10:00 pm


Governor: Branstad (R) v. Hatch (D)

Senate: Ernst (R) v. Braley (D)

Branstad’s reelection prospects were never really in doubt.  The surprise has been Lt. Col. Joni Ernst, the hog-castrating rising GOP star, who led Bruce Braley by seven points in final Iowa Poll.  Any hope for Braley rests on strong showings in both Polk (Des Moines) and Black Hawk (Waterloo) counties to offset GOP margins in rural parts of the state.  That and not further mocking Sen. Grassley and farmers.


Senate: Daines (R) v. Curtis (D)

This one has been over since “Papergate.”  Welcome, Senator-elect Daines!


Governor: Sandoval (R) v. Goodman (D)

Sandoval is likely to clean up on Tuesday, a far cry from 2012 when the state went for Obama.

The GOP early vote returns are strong statewide, but particularly in Clark County (where Republicans are leading the early vote count, despite a 44-31 registration deficit).

These factors have Democrats running scared in Nevada’s 4th CD where Crescent Hardy could surprise Dem. Rep. Steven Horsford.  Also, what effects could a strong GOP tide in 2014 have on Dem Presidential and Harry Reid reelection prospects in 2016?  Does the GOP sweep the statewide offices?  Watch the AG race between Republican Adam Laxalt (grandson of former Senator Paul Laxalt) and Dem Ross Miller (son of former Governor Bob Biller).

Worth staying up for and if the GOP wins out you’ll be able to hear Harry Reid yelling at staff from your living room.

11:00 pm

OREGON (10:00/11:00)

Governor: Richardson (R) v. Kitzhaber (D)

Senate: Wehby (R) v. Merkel (D)

Both races looked gettable for Republicans earlier in the cycle, but seem unlikely now – barring a total, national GOP sweep.

1:00 am


Governor: Parnell (R) v. Walker (I)

Senate: Sullivan (R) v. Begich (D)

While polls in the Aleutian Islands stay open an hour later, most polling places close at midnight.  Alaska offers a unique twist: both first-term incumbents, the Republican governor and the Democrat senator, are trailing in the polls.

Rural Alaska votes come in over the course of days, not hours, so if this race isn’t decided by big margins in Anchorage and Fairbanks everyone can just go to bed.  We’ll find out who won sometime around Friday.



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