Here’s what I’m watching for tonight, at least beyond the obvious. In the presidential race, we’ll all be watching Virginia, with its early 7:00 (Eastern) closing time; if Barack Obama runs basically to his polling averages there, winning by a percentage point or two, then it should be a fairly comfortable win for him overall. But remember, votes don’t always come in with any predictable regularity. Then Ohio closes at 7:30, although everyone has been warning that if Ohio is very close, we may be waiting for days for a final count there.
What else should you be watching, beyond the presidential contest?
There are four extremely close Senate races: Virginia closes earliest, and then Wisconsin, North Dakota, and Montana. If everything else goes as the polls say, these four will determine the size of the Democratic majority, anywhere from 51 to 55 seats.
Longshot Republican hopes of a majority rest on winning all four of those and two more; the most likely are Indiana, which closes early, and perhaps Massachusetts, with other targets in Pennsylvania and Ohio. Only Indiana appears to be fairly close.
Longshot Democratic hopes of a Senate landslide rest on the four close ones and perhaps picking off Arizona and Nevada.
Remember: each Senate seat is important. Size of the majority doesn’t matter very much in the House, but it does in the Senate. In addition, several candidates in close races may be highly active, effective senators — Tammy Baldwin and Elizabeth Warren are two examples for this on the Democratic side, and Jeff Flake is one on the Republican side.
In the House, Republicans are expected to keep their majority, with Democrats picking up maybe a handful of seats. To pull off a shocker and win House control, the Democrats will have to win virtually every contested seat. Early-closing Indiana provides a good test; the Cook Report rates IN-08 as “Lean Republican” and IN-02 as “Likely Republican.” Early-closing Kentucky also has a toss-up 6th district; if Democrats lose all three of these, they might be looking at actually losing seats.
After those comes the 8:00-closing group: Illinois alone has five toss-ups (districts 10, 11, 12, 13, 17), which should give a pretty good sense of which way things are going.
There are plenty of other interesting ballot measures, including the death penalty and taxes in California, and weed in several states.
How about state legislative races? As we learned in Wisconsin, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and other states over the last two years, which party controls state legislatures can have important national implications. Several state chambers are up for grabs — not the least of which is Wisconsin’s Senate, the scene of all those recent recall battles.
Yes, the presidency matters a lot, and it’s reasonable to put the bulk of our attention on it. But each of all these other elections will matter, and they’re all worth watching.