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ELECTIONS PREVIEW: What to Watch For Tonight

As results begin to roll in this evening, be sure to consult National Journal's excellent 2014 cheat sheet for a helpful primer on the bellwethers and tea leaves to be tracking in each state.  Here's our quick guide on poll closing times, and what to keep an eye on (all times Eastern):

6 pm: Most polls close in Kentucky, where Mitch McConnell appears to be pulling away from Alison Grimes, all polls in the state officially close an hour later.

7 pm: Georgia is home to competitive gubernatorial and Senate races, in which Republicans are hoping to avoid a January run-off.  Gov. Nathan Deal and Senate hopeful David Perdue have surged in recent polling, but would need to top 50 percent to avoid the follow-on election -- in which Republicans have traditionally performed very well.  Also keep an eye on the state's 12th Congressional District, where moderate Democrat John Barrow is on the ropes.

7:30 pm: Ohio, West Virginia and North Carolina.  The former two states should be called for John Kasich (the incumbent governor) and Shelley Moore Capito (running for Jay Rockefeller's vacated seat) very quickly, as both Republicans hold large poll leads.  North Carolina is the big one in this time slot.  Will Sen. Kay Hagan, who's held a consistent but dwindling polling average lead for months, survive?  She enters the night as the favorite, but might these early voting trends be a good sign for challenger Thom Tillis?

8 pm: Will Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn fall to Republican businessman Bruce Rauner?  The polls are neck-and-neck.  Republicans in the state also have a shot at several Congressional pick-ups, with the biggest Bellwether being the Northshore swing district of IL-10.  New Hampshire is a very swingy state, breaking hard for Democrats in 2008 and 2012, while turning crimson in 2010.  Scott Brown's effort to unseat Sen. Jeanne Shaheen has been a slog, with the challenger slowly gaining on the incumbent for weeks.  Shaheen still has a lead, which matters greatly, but Team Brown believes their guy has the momentum.  NH-01 could also be a national bellwether Congressional District.  President Obama is very unpopular in the state, but will that toxicity transfer over to New Hampshire's Democratic ticket?  
Massachusetts' race for governor has swung heavily toward Republican Charlie Baker in the closing weeks.  Will Martha Coakley lose another major statewide race?  And then there's Florida, where soulless chameleon Charlie Crist (D) hopes to knock of Republican Gov. Rick Scott and reoccupy the governor's mansion he recently held as a "conservative Republican."  Exceedingly close polls.

8:30 pm: Sen. Mark Pryor's goose looks cooked in Arkansas, but is there a chance that his family name and ground game save him against Rep. Tom Cotton?

9 pm: This is a big hour, featuring several marquee races.  Will incumbent Sen. Pat Roberts win ugly in Kansas, or will evasive "independent" Greg Orman prevail?  Joe Biden is finally, officially letting the cat out of the bag that Orman's a Democrat.  Orman has a tiny lead in the polls, but this is a deep red state in a red-tinted year.  Roberts is counting on the GOP machinery in the state to save him, as Orman doesn't have a party apparatus backing him.  Colorado's new mail-in ballot system means that votes have been tabulated for weeks now, so these Senate and gubernatorial races could be called pretty quickly.  Republicans feel good about how the balloting has gone through this morning, outpacing their own projections.  This likely augurs well for Cory Gardner in his campaign to oust Sen. Mark Udall from office.  The governor race could be a real squeaker between Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) and Rep. Bob Beauprez (R). 
Louisiana's polls close at 9pm ET, too, but the headliner race is destined for an early December run-off.  Will Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker beat the Left for the third time in four years?  A favorable final poll and some bad news for Mary Burke point toward a close victory, but you never know.  Michigan's incumbent Gov. Rick Snyder, who signed right to work legislation in his first term, is also up for re-election and enjoys a modest polling lead.  The open Senate race in that state looks lost for Republicans.  On the House side, pay attention to New York, where the GOP is hoping for a net gain of at least three, possibly four, seats.

10 pm: Iowa, baby.  Joni Ernst has been one of conservatives' favorite candidates all cycle, and she's in the lead position to fill the US Senate seat being vacated by Tom Harkin (who's made some headlines this week for comments about Ernst).  Bruce Braley is hoping that a dominant ground game effort will give him a shot at what at this point would be a minor upset.  Will Democrats lose Braley's House district, too?  Out in Nevada, Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval is cruising, but will a "red wave" that Silver State political analyst Jon Ralston has been predicting materialize?  Might Democrats even lose what should be a safe seat in the newly-created NV-04?

Midnight: Most polls close in Alaska at 12am ET, but remote parts of the state keep voting until 1am.  Unless the results are very clear early on, this one might not get called for days.  Republican Dan Sullivan has a decent polling lead over incumbent Mark Begich, but polling Alaska is tough, and Begich has a ground game advantage.  On the other hand, Begich barely won in a big Democratic year (2008), against a Republican incumbent who'd just been (
wrongly) convicted of corruption charges.

Between the drawn out process in Alaska and probable run-offs in Louisiana and Georgia, the Senate majority may not be determined for months.  And away we go…buckle up!

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