Election Day is finally here, and hopefully it will deliver some answers. Over the past three weeks, Hillary Clinton’s polling lead over Donald Trump swelled, then receded, then stabilized, but what contours will each candidate’s coalition ultimately take? Who will control the Senate? And will Democrats, now down 30 in the House of Representatives, win enough congressional seats to make Paul Ryan’s life miserable? Here’s a guide to what to look for tonight, hour by hour.
6 p.m. EST: Polls Close in Most of Indiana, Part of Kentucky
Trump will win both of these states, but even the first trickle of votes could be interesting. Indiana’s early precincts don’t include Lake County, home to the heavily African-American city of Gary, and will indicate where the candidates stand with white Midwestern Protestants. If Trump is up by more than 15 points, he is likely not only to carry Indiana by double digits, but to do well among white voters overall.
Meanwhile, Eastern Kentucky is coal country, and if Trump crushes Clinton by landslide proportions there, he could be on his way to exceeding expectations in the mining and mill towns of southern Ohio and western Pennsylvania, too.
7 p.m.: Georgia, South Carolina, Vermont, and Virginia, Most of Florida and New Hampshire, the Rest of Indiana and Kentucky (60 EV So Far)
Virginia has become one of Clinton’s firewall states, and she leads by an average of 5 percent in polls taken this month. Georgia offers her an interesting upside: Both campaigns have essentially ignored the state, but Trump leads by just 2.3 percent in recent polls. If Clinton gets closer than that, it’s probably a sign that black turnout is holding up. If she actually wins there, it would be devastating for Trump.
Hot Senate Race No. 1: When former governor and U.S. senator Evan Bayh jumped into Indiana’s open Senate race in July, it looked like Democrats would nab an easy pickup. Instead, he walked into a $30 million brawl where Republican Representative Todd Young has successfully attacked Bayh for leaving the Senate in 2011 and getting wealthy off his connections thereafter. Last week, Young took his first lead in polls. Democrats need to gain four Senate seats to get to a 50-50 split, and it suddenly seems that this might not be one they get.
Key Congressional Race: In the Virginia 10th, a district that Barack Obama carried in 2008 but flipped to Mitt Romney in 2012, Republican Representative Virginia Comstock called on Trump to drop out of the race in October. If she loses to challenger LuAnn Bennett, it could be a long night for the GOP in the suburbs.
7:30 p.m.: North Carolina, Ohio, and West Virginia (98 EV So Far)
Polls show a dead heat in North Carolina, where it’s fair to wonder if any Democratic early-voting or get-out-the-vote efforts can offset a decline in African-American enthusiasm. They show Trump with a small but persistent lead in Ohio, but it’s also fair to wonder if the Clinton campaign has data that we don’t. They’ve been pouring time and resources into the Buckeye State, and Hillary isn’t like the rest of us — she wouldn’t hold rallies with Beyoncé or LeBron James just to party with them.
Moreover, Ohio may be one place where intra-party resentments against Trump are still lingering: In one Sunday survey, 30 percent of voters who backed John Kasich for governor in 2014 said they are supporting Clinton on Tuesday. In any case, the thing to remember is that unless he picks off a state or two further north, Trump needs both North Carolina and Ohio to have a chance of winning.
Hot Senate Race No. 2: North Carolina is right on the razor’s edge when it comes to the Senate, too: Just a point or two separate Republican senator Richard Burr and his Democratic challenger, former State Representative Deborah Ross.
Pol to Watch: One more from N.C.: Roy Cooper rolled up increasingly big margins in four terms as state attorney general, and is now running against Governor Pat McCrory, who has overseen North Carolina’s recent and fairly unpopular legislative lurch to the far right. If Cooper wins, he can go on to be as much of a national leader for Democrats as he wants.
8 p.m.: Alabama, Connecticut, Delaware, D.C., Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Missouri, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Tennessee, the Rest of Florida and New Hampshire, Most of Kansas, Michigan, South Dakota, and Texas (270 EV So Far)
Florida and Pennsylvania are the two most likely states to tip the election, according to Nate Silver. At the moment, they appear to favor Clinton. While the race has narrowed to about three points in Pennsylvania, Trump still hasn’t shown he is gaining enough working-class white voters to offset the moderate suburbanites he has driven away. If Trump does carry the Keystone State, it’s a sign the polls were seriously wrong, there is hidden support for him, and everything will probably hinge on Florida. And yes, Florida is likely to be close. But the only polls since November 1 to show Trump with a lead there are Republican-affiliated. And early voting indicates a more diverse electorate than in 2012 (just as 2012 was more diverse than 2008), with huge enthusiasm from Latinos who didn’t vote four years ago.
Split Electoral Votes: Maine and Nebraska each allocate two electoral votes to the candidate who wins their popular vote, then one apiece to the winner of each congressional district. Trump has a good chance to pick off one electoral vote in Maine’s second district, covering the interior part of the state. You can make up your own joke about Trump and Bangor.
Hot Senate Race No. 3: To illustrate the definition of the word uncomfortable, dictionaries of the future will use this clip of Republican senator Kelly Ayotte trying to explain whether or not Trump is a role model for kids. Her New Hampshire race against Democratic governor Maggie Hassan has teetered back and forth all year, and is probably the closest in the country.
Hot Senate Race No. 4: Among the very conservative Republican senators elected in moderate states in 2010, Senator Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania has done the best job of presenting himself as a bipartisan moderate this year. But his race against former state environmental secretary Katie McGinty has started to slip away from the GOP in the past couple of weeks.
Hot Senate Race No. 5: In Missouri, Democrat Jason Kander had the single best ad of 2016, which defended background checks for gun purchases while showing the former Army National Guard captain assembling a rifle blindfolded. Now Kander is now nip and tuck with Senator Roy Blunt, in the rare race where anti-Establishment sentiment is cresting in favor of a Democrat.
If at First You Don’t Succeed: In 2008, Charlie Crist could have — and probably should have — been John McCain’s running mate. Since then, he has run for the Senate as an independent and lost, then run for governor as a Democrat and lost. Now Crist is running again, for Congress in his home district, the Florida 13th, against Republican representative David Jolly. Prediction: If Crist loses this time, they’ll stop saying, “You can’t blame a guy for trying.” Underappreciated fact: Crist is still extremely popular among African-Americans, and could help boost black turnout in Pinellas County, which includes St. Petersburg and Clearwater.
Say Good-bye: In Illinois, Republican senator Mark Kirk was already facing a steep uphill reelection battle against Democratic Representative Tammy Duckworth when he decided to deride her family’s heritage and military service at their October 28 debate, sniping, “I had forgotten that your parents had come all the way from Thailand to serve George Washington.” Actually, Duckworth does have an ancestor who fought in the Revolutionary War. She was born in Bangkok, where her father, a World War II veteran, was working in the late 1960s. And she lost both of her legs in the Iraq War.
8:30 p.m.: Arkansas (276 EV So Far)
It’s hard to remember now, but at the end of the 2008 primaries, Hillary Clinton was the candidate of Appalachian and Ozark Democrats. Now it’s hard to imagine when Bill Clinton’s home state will ever go Democratic again.
9 p.m.: Arizona, Colorado, Louisiana, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, Wisconsin, and Wyoming, Plus the Rest of Kansas, Michigan, South Dakota, and Texas (429 EV So Far)
This is the critical hour for Trump. The candidates will probably be close in the electoral vote count, with red and blue states assuming a distinctive pattern. But here’s the thing: In states where the polls close after 10 p.m., 78 electoral votes are sure to go to Clinton, and just 25 are likely for Trump. So he needs to sweep the earlier battlegrounds and then pick off Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, or Colorado, all of which he trails by four to six points in the latest surveys. So are there non-college-educated white men out there who polls haven’t detected?
Hot Senate Race No. 6: No senator since 1934 has lost a seat then come back six years later to dethrone the man who beat him. That’s what Democrat Russ Feingold, a progressive darling and campaign-finance-reform champion who cast the lone Senate vote against the original Patriot Act, is trying to accomplish against Senator Ron Johnson in Wisconsin. You might remember Johnson from such hits as blaming climate change on sunspots, Photoshopping President Obama into an ad opposing the Iran nuclear deal, and calling the Lego Movie “insidious” and “propaganda.” Feingold has been ahead in the polls throughout, but his lead has shrunk. For the story of what’s happening in the Upper Midwest, this is the race to watch.
Key Congressional Races: Remember Zephyr Teachout, who primaried Andrew Cuomo from the left in 2014 and got 34 percent of the vote? Bidding to become New York’s Elizabeth Warren, she is running for an open congressional seat in the 19th congressional district, which covers the Catskills and Hudson County. And remember John Faso, who was minority leader of the State Assembly and got 29 percent of the vote running against Eliot Spitzer in 2006? He’s her opponent.
In New York’s 22nd congressional district, a GOP-leaning district that stretches from Binghamton to Lake Ontario, keep an eye on whether tech entrepreneur Martin Babinec, running on the largely self-funded “upstate jobs” line, splits enough votes from tea-party Republican Claudia Tenney to elect State legislator Kim Myers. That’s the kind of break Democrats will need if they’re going to gain more than a dozen House seats.
All Politics Is Local: Actually, it’s not anymore, but it sure is in Nassau County, Long Island. Last year, former State Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos was convicted of conspiracy and extortion, and Democrats were able to flip his South Shore seat. Then, last month, County Supervisor Ed Mangano and Oyster Bay Supervisor John Venditto were led away on federal corruption charges. Another couple of scandal-related gains could convince the breakaway “Independent Democratic” conference to realign and give regular Democrats control of the Senate, and therefore of all three branches of New York State government. The tightest race is probably in the 7th district, centered in Mineola, where Republican Elaine Phillips is battling Democrat Adam Haber for an open seat. (Venditto’s son Michael is a safe bet to keep his own Senate seat in the 8th district.)
On the Ballot: Want a sleeper issue that could bring millennials to the polls? Legalizing marijuana is up for popular vote in nine states, including four that happen to be battlegrounds. Pot probably won’t pack the same punch that, say, banning gay marriage did for Republicans in 2004, but it could be worth a couple of points for Democrats in key locales. That includes Arizona, where Proposition 205 would allow adults to grow up to six cannabis plants, carry up to an ounce, and smoke recreationally in non-public spaces.
10 p.m.: Iowa, Montana, Nevada, and Utah, Plus Most of Idaho and Parts of North Dakota and Oregon (450 EV So Far)
While most of the political world was still focused on Hillary’s e-mails and the FBI last Friday night, an extraordinary story was unfolding in Las Vegas, where the polling place at Cardenas Market had to stay open for three extra hours to allow everyone in line during the last night of early voting to cast ballots. Nevada’s Democratic organization, led by retiring Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, has worked for years to turn out its supporters, and this time around it has abetted a massive surge in Latino voters. According to Nevada journalist Jon Ralston, Democrats have banked a 73,000-vote lead in early voting — greater than the entire margin between Obama and Romney in 2012.
That’s yuuuge trouble for Trump: With Nevada in pocket, Clinton could lose Ohio, North Carolina, Florida, and New Hampshire, and that extra electoral vote in Maine, and even two members of the Electoral College in Washington who supported Bernie Sanders and have said they might not vote for Clinton, and still go over 270 electoral votes.
Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway said that because of the early returns in Nevada, Trump’s campaign has “beefed up our field team.” To which Stuart Stevens, Romney’s chief strategist in 2012, tweeted: “This would be like announcing construction has begun on a new levee the day before Katrina hit New Orleans.”
Hot Senate Race No. 7: Republicans thought they found a dream candidate for the Nevada seat Reid is vacating: Queens-born representative Joe Heck, who is a physician and Army brigadier general. But Heck and former state attorney general Catherine Cortez Masto have been locked in an extraordinarily tight race, and heavy early turnout is almost certainly tilting Democratic.
Say Good-bye, But Wow: In Utah, Misty Snow, a Sanders Democrat who works at a grocery store, is the first transgender candidate for the U.S. Senate ever to run as the nominee of a major party. Don’t feel bad if you didn’t know; most Utahns might not, either, as she is losing to Senator Mike Lee, a tea party Republican, by more than 40 points in recent polls.
11 p.m.: California, Hawaii, and Washington, Plus the Rest of Idaho, North Dakota, and Oregon (535 EV So Far)
A lot of blue goes on the board.
Key Congressional Race: Representative Darrell Issa, who is known in New York for fighting against funds for 9/11 emergency responders, has spent most of his time in Congress leading largely fruitless investigations into Benghazi, IRS, Solyndra, you name it — one right-wing hot-button issue after another. Now, in an upscale suburban district where Trump is very unpopular, he’s in a dogfight with Democrat Doug Applegate, a former Marine colonel.
Pol to Watch: Yes, there is a lieutenant governor’s race in the country worth tracking, and it’s in Washington, where State Senator Cyrus Habib is leading. Habib is basically a one-man show for the diversity of the post-Clinton Democratic party: He’s a 34-year-old Iranian-American tech lawyer from the Seattle area who also happens to be blind, having lost his eyesight to cancer as a child.
On the Ballot: Of the 17 initiatives facing California’s voters, Proposition 57 could have the biggest impact nationwide. During his first tour of office in the 1970s, Governor Jerry Brown helped establish mandatory sentencing, which led the state’s prison population to explode. Now Brown is championing Prop 57, which would let judges, not prosecutors, decide whether to try juveniles as adults and make it easier for nonviolent felons to earn parole or early release through good behavior and taking part in rehabilitation programs. It’s potentially a huge step forward in criminal justice reform.
Say Good-bye: Over a 20-year career in Congress, Representative Loretta Sanchez has had more than her share of wacky moments. (One favorite: Democrats stripped Sanchez of her speaking role at their 2000 convention because Al Gore asked her not to hold a fundraiser at the Playboy Mansion and she did anyway). But she has outdone herself in the race to replace retiring Senator Barbara Boxer. Sanchez began the race by making a “woo-woo” noise to imitate Native Americans and ended it by dabbing during a debate with state Attorney General Kamala Harris. Harris, a rising national star, will be the one going to D.C. in January.
Midnight: Alaska (538 Total EV)
In some ways, the idiosyncrasies of Alaska comprise a mirror image of Trumpism: It’s a libertarian, multiracial, pro-free-trade state where sexual assault issues are a high priority. No Democrat has carried Alaska since LBJ, but the polls, while sparse, have been surprisingly close.
As if we need anymore uncertainty after the rest of Tuesday’s results.