Video: What to watch for on election night

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updated 11/4/2008 1:31:08 PM ET 2008-11-04T18:31:08
Analysis

You don't have to wait until the talking heads declare a winner to get a sense of how this night will turn out for Barack Obama and John McCain. And just because we aren't likely to see much TV coverage of the House and Senate contests doesn't mean that you have to be in the dark with those contests, either. Here's a handy viewing guide to help keep you one step of your TV:

It could end in the eastern states
Given Obama's strength in Virginia, Colorado, New Mexico, Iowa and New Hampshire, McCain has to win Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida to get to 270. If any of those states go to Obama, it's over.

Will we see the "Bradley Effect"?
According to the latest Diageo/Hotline polling [PDF], Obama is running slightly ahead of where John Kerry was four years ago among certain groups of white voters. For example, George Bush crushed Kerry among white men by 25 percentage points. Today, McCain's lead over Obama among this group is a much smaller 15 points, and Obama is sitting at 40 percent among these voters -- 3 points higher than where Kerry ended up in '04. Among white women, Obama's taking 43 percent -- basically the same percentage that Kerry got in '04. Among married white women, Obama's taking 41 percent -- 3 points higher than Kerry did in '04.

The national exit poll -- which should be on the Web by 5:30 or 6 p.m. -- will tell us if Obama's support has dropped significantly among these groups. A word of caution: Data is added to these exits all night long. As the night goes on, they become more reliable. That said, as long as Obama keeps pace with Kerry's showing and his own pre-election polling, the "Bradley Effect" will be debunked.

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How big will Democrats' majority get in the House?
Four states that have 7 p.m. poll closings -- Indiana, Kentucky, South Carolina and Virginia -- can give us some early answers. Watch what happens to Reps. Mark Souder in Ind.-03, Henry Brown in S.C.-01 and Thelma Drake in Va.-02, as well as the open contest in Ky.-02. All would be considered GOP strongholds in a "normal" year. But Democrats have made a serious play there this year. Should all four seats go, we're looking at a 40-seat pickup for Democrats. If none of them go blue, we'll probably see GOP losses in the 20s.

If you're looking for a surprise, take a look at GOP Rep. Virgil Goode (Va.-05). Although Bush carried this district by 56 percent, Goode may fall victim to big turnout for Obama in the Charlottesville area. Albemarle County, where Charlottesville is located, made up 17 percent of the total vote in 2006. And the fact that Goode's been involved in a controversy over whether he was aware of his office's official involvement in a film that featured a gay storyline isn't exactly what he'd want to be talking about just a couple days before Election Day.

Sixty in the Senate?
At this point, it's hard to see Democrats picking up fewer than seven seats -- Colorado, New Mexico, Oregon, Virginia, Alaska, North Carolina and New Hampshire. The only way for Democrats to get to 60 is by winning two of the following races: Minnesota, Mississippi, Kentucky and Georgia.

A hint for Georgia and Mississippi: Take a look in the exit polls at the percentage of the electorate that's made up of black voters. At this point, 35 percent of early voters in Georgia are black. While Election Day turnout could reduce this number, it's important to note that the total black vote could be significantly higher than it was four years ago -- or six years ago when Sen. Saxby Chambliss was first elected. In '04, African-Americans made up 25 percent of the total vote. And in 2002, it was just 22 percent.

One political strategist who's been active in Mississippi politics says that if black turnout eclipses 37 percent, GOP Sen. Roger Wicker, who's currently leading in the polls, could be in serious trouble.

Bottom line
The networks have been rehearsing for this night for weeks. But reality has a funny way of messing with even the best-laid plans. We may be up all night or headed for an early bedtime. Either way, these guideposts can help set the contours for what the night will hold.            

Copyright 2012 by National Journal Group Inc.

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