As you settle in to watch this evening's election results, there's a chance that we may know some important things relatively early in the evening. Examining the list of closing times, you'll notice that the 7pm ET hour roster includes some very consequential states. By the top of that hour, the following states will have closed their polls, allowing media outlets to start sharing head-to-head exit polling outcomes (which should always be taken with a generous dash of salt), as well as actual results: Indiana, Kentucky, Vermont, Virginia, South Carolina, and Georgia (plus most of New Hampshire). Half an hour later, North Carolina, Ohio and West Virginia will cease voting. Depending on what the data says, this handful of states could tell us a lot about how the night is going to shape up.
For President: If a state like Virginia is looking surprisingly close, that would be a very positive sign for Trump, suggesting that his final average polling deficit may have overstated her margin in one of her "safest" swing states. It would also sow panic among Democrats regarding minority turnout. If Georgia remains too close to call throughout the hour, that would be good news for Team Hillary, indicating that she really is going to make things difficult for him even in some traditionally red states. Conversely, an early Georgia call for Trump would seriously tamp down expectations that she'll be shifting Obama's map much. If we get quickly projected winners in either Ohio or North Carolina, get ready to hear some alarm bells. (Keep an eye on black turnout exit polls in both states). Let's say Trump carries Ohio decisively, so much so that it gets called early. That could mean that Clinton-leaning Midwestern rust belt states (at least according to public polls) could really be in play, and Trump might be in the process of reshaping the electoral map. If Clinton carries North Carolina, especially if she's declared the winner early on, it will likely be a long night at Trump Tower.
For Senate: Should Evan Bayh go down in Indiana, that's probably a pretty positive sign for Republicans' chances to retain the upper chamber. If Todd Young beats him handily, and it's over quickly, that'd be a very good sign. But if Bayh manages to defy the momentum and hang on, that would probably be a serious blow to the Stop Schumer team. In Ohio, if Rob Portman isn't heralded as the clear winner very early on, that may be a worrisome sign for his fellow Senate Republican incumbents. He should walk away with this race, based on all the polling. As we've explained elsewhere, North Carolina and New Hampshire are home to perhaps the two most important Senate races of the cycle. An early call in either of those races will set off euphoria and despair at each party's headquarters, depending on how things break. Both of those races should be nail-biters, if everything goes "normally."
For the House: Literally only one pure "toss-up" House battle is taking place in a state that ends its voting in the 7pm ET hour tonight. It's the ferocious fight for Virginia's 10th Congressional District -- a seat currently occupied by Republican Barbara Comstock. Living in the DC media market, I can attest that huge sums of money have been spent on advertising in this race, with Comstock's opponent and allied groups attempting to tie her to Donald Trump 24/7. There is no recent or reliable public polling of this contest, which sources close to the Comstock campaign tell me is very competitive. They believe the incumbent will ride a wave of enough ticket-splitters to pull out a victory, but that could depend on how Trump performs in the district (where the GOP presidential nominee made a stop just yesterday).
For Governor: Four of the six most contested gubernatorial battles in America are being waged in in states where polls will close before 8pm ET (a fifth one -- New Hampshire -- shuts down the last of its precincts at the top of that hour). Democrats have strong pick-up opportunities in North Carolina and Indiana, although both races appear to be very close. Republicans seem poised to have a decent shot at picking up governors' mansions in New Hampshire, West Virginia, and...Vermont. The only other potential down-to-the-wire races will close up later in Missouri and Montana.