For all of those who have no had a chance (READ: Is not nearly as nerdy) to keep up with the election, here is a quick and dirty guide to the election. First a few ground rules and general things to keep in mind.
Not all polls are created equal
Just because John Zogby has a poll with McCain +1 nationally doesn’t mean that McCain is actually +1. More than likely, it means that John Zogby just loves to shower himself with attention. It is important to analyze the voters models used to generate these polls as well as the questions asked of the responders. Are third party candidates included? Are young voters well represented? Does it account for increased turnout among certain demographics? These are all questions that must be asked of polls before we accept them at face value.
Some polls are greater than others as far as their accuracy. Don’t be shocked if we don’t include the latest numbers for some polls, because quite frankly, few polls are worth the trouble.
Both authors of this document fully admit their life-long affiliation with the Democratic Party. We’re both Democrats, but we try our best to keep biases out, though that tends to be difficult at times. I have my soap boxes, Taylor has his too. We’ll try to be objective, but we make no promises.
And if you’re wondering why all the Republican pictures have flags in the background, it’s because it is impossible to find any without. It’s like part of their outfit.
This document is arranged chronologically, by closing time. If you want to hear about Alaska, I suggest you flip to the back. The quicker a state closes its polls, the sooner they will be covered. Along with the Presidential races, several Senate, House and Governors races will also be covered. Next to name of every state, you’ll see how it voted in 2004 (for whom and by how much) as well as the current projected winner by Fivethirtyeight.com. Under every highlighted race, you’ll find important demographic data, voter stats and nuggets of info as well the occasional piece of commentary and bad joke. It is our supreme wish that you find this document useful.
-Xiao Xi Zhang and Taylor Poro
5:00 PM Central Time
First Polls Close – Eastern Kentucky and Most of Indiana (Bush in 2004)
Indiana (Bush by 23.7%) – McCain +1.5
Indiana has been a surprising swing state so far this election and has been a target of the Obama campaign since the early days of the election cycle. Obama has devoted a large amount of resources to opening 42 field offices in the state, with a great concentration in the largely rural Eastern part.
McCain has largely ignored the state, with good reason as it’s gone Democratic exactly once in the last 15 elections, and has a 14% advantage in Republicans vs. Democrats Identification and has demographic trends which heavily favor the Republicans (large gun ownership rate, large rural population). Current polls have McCain leading, but not by enough to make this race comfortable.
There’s a race worth watching in the Indiana 9th district, in what is probably the most personal race of this election cycle.
Kentucky (Bush by 20%) – McCain +13.6
Proof positive that voter self-identification does not always dictate their vote, Kentucky actually has a democratic advantage in the number of registered voters. Despite this, it will easily go McCain this election cycle.
Some of Kentucky’s polls close at five, while others at six, so all of the results will not be released until six. When all of the polls close, John McCain will be declared the winner easily, as almost every aspect of the Kentucky demographic map favors the Republican Party.
The more interesting aspect of the Kentucky will be the election for US senator. The incumbent, Mitch McConnell is the Republican minority leader and was thought to be in a safe race. In the last few weeks however, nursing home magnate Bruce Lunsford has been closing the gap, and keeping the race with McConnell close. As McConnell is the minority leader, he’ll face especially strong retaliation from an anti-incumbent mood, as well as resistance from voters in an anti-Republican mood. McConnell’s money and the state’s strong republican lean will favor him, as will McCain’s coattails in the state. It also helps McConnell that Lunsford has already lost two statewide primaries, and has somewhat high negatives.
However, despite the fact that Lunsford seems to have topped out at about 44% of the vote, McConnell’s support for the bailout weights heavily against him here. Kentucky has an outside shot at being a wave seat, but the fact that this seat is in endanger at all is indicative of the strength of the Republican brand nation-wide. A loss for McConnell here, or even a strong showing by Lunsford, might jeopardize the seat of Republican Senator Jim Bunnings, who is running for re-election in 2010. Bunnings have neither the popularity or the clout of McConnell and is a serious weak spot for the GOP in 2010.
Trends to Watch:
Both Indiana and Kentucky are interesting states to gauge the strength of the GOP GOTV effort and the amount of new voter turnout for this election. Indiana has traditionally had one of the lowest voting rates of the nation (at around 55%), and a huge push by new voters can push Obama over the top there.
Eastern Kentucky has traditionally been one of the most conservative areas in the nation, and a poor turnout there could mean there’ll be lower turnout in the conservative South. A low conservative turnout could end the race before California closes its polls and have huge impact on several crucial down-ticket races.
Baron P. Hill (D-Incumbent) vs Mike Sodrel (R)
They say that politics is a game of characters, and if that’s true, then this race definitely takes precedence over all others - including that of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. For the past 6 years, Republican Mike Sodrel and Democrat Baron P. Hill have been busy re-enacting a political version of the Battle of Somme with great financial casualties for both.
In 2002, Sodrel barely lost to Baron P. Hill in his challenge for Hill’s seat, only to beat Hill in 2004. His stay in the House was neither long nor storied as he lost to Hill for the seat 2 years later. Not satisfied with two defeats, Sodrel now expects to challenge him in round 4 of their bout. This year, Hill’s fundraising far outpaces Sodrel’s and he’s expected to have an easier time at re-election. Yet, despite this, there is still significant and quite vicious exchange of words between the two men.
This series of elections between the two men have featured everything - a demanded recount by Hill in 2004, voting machine errors in both 2004 and 2006, Hill walking across the state of Ohio (literally walking) in order to meet with voters, Sodrel funding his own campaign through his personal fortune, a stereotypically rich and conservative Texan millionaire injecting his money into the campaign, visits and fundraisers by both Presidents Clinton and Bush, and more money spent on negative ads that would make Karl Rove blush (or flush with excitement) than any other Indiana district. Really, the battle between these two men has been a microcosm of our last 8 years of politics.
The strength of Sodrel’s showing, more importantly, will be a good indicator for the state of Indiana. If Baron Hill is able to put Sodrel away by double digits, that means good things for Obama.
6:00 PM Central Time
Blue in the Land of Dixie – Georgia, Virginia, South Carolina, Vermont, Rural New Hampshire, Western Kentucky, Rest of Indiana, and Eastern Florida
Georgia (Bush by 17%) – McCain +3.7
Home to one of the most contentious races of the 2002 elections, Georgia has always been an odd duck in the Solid South. With its growing minority population (non-Whites make up 1/3 of the State’s population) and a large base of young voters, a consistent turnout effort could swing the state to the Democratic column for good in the next few elections.
Early polls have been promising in that regard, as the African American turnout during early voting has accounted for 35% of the total votes. That has caused a large lead 55-40 lead for Barack Obama, though he trails in overall polls 47-44. Keep an eye out on both the African-American turnout and the returns from the Atlanta suburbs, as good results in either area would spell trouble for Republicans in 2008 and possibly in the future.
Obama has recently restarted buying air time in Georgia both to take an outside shot at the state’s 13 electoral votes and to help out Democratic US Senate Nominee Jim Martin.
Along with a close presidential race and a hot Senate race, Georgia is also home to two moderately contested house races. Both John Barrow (D-Georgia 13th) and Jim Marshall (D-Georgia 8th) barely survived their Republican gerrymandered districts in 2006. Their races should be easier this year and both races are leaning Democrat right now.
South Carolina (Bush by 17%) – McCain +9.7
South Carolina is another state that SHOULD go straight into McCain’s column upon polls closing. However, high African American turnout could make the state somewhat competitive, and Obama is likely to do better in South Carolina than Kerry did. There are also two interesting house seats which could turn blue, depending on turnout.
In SC-01, a survey USA poll puts Linda Ketner five points behind Henry brown (R). With an African American electorate of 20%, a surge of voters could put Ketner over the top. What’s interesting is that Linda is an openly gay woman, who could actually win a house seat in the Deep South.
Senator (and top McCain surrogate) Lindsey Graham was thought to be somewhat vulnerable during the height of the Republican panic, but that turned out for naught. It might have something to do with the fact that the Democrat’s pool of available candidates is bird-bath shallow here.
Vermont (Kerry by 20%) – Obama +24.6
Vermont will be a gauge on the presidential election, but not a very big one. If McCain is able to keep Obama in the low 50’s then he may be having a very good night. Conversely, if Obama gets 64% of the vote or higher, then this will be a good night for him, as it would be the most a Democrat has won there since Lyndon Baines Johnson.
The gubernatorial race should be more interesting since it’s a three person race, and if none of the candidates gets a majority of the votes it goes to the legislature where the Democrats have a 2/3’s majority. Neither the democratic challenger, Gaye Symington, nor independent activist Anthony Pollina has run very good campaigns though, and the incumbent governor Jim Douglas is likely to be re-elected.
Rural New Hampshire (Kerry by 1%) – Obama +9.8
New Hampshire’s odd election rules means that various parts of the state close their polls at different times. It is a confusing set of election rules that is a part of New Hampshire’s efforts to become the most confusing state in the Union.
Furthermore, New Hampshire is notoriously difficult to predict (READ: the election and primaries are the only things they have going for them and they’ll milk it for all it’s worth). This is both McCain country, and Hillary country. New Hampshire will be the first test of the Palin effect. Palin was brought in to lure Hillary voters away from Obama, specifically older, white women.
Kerry barely won New Hampshire with 50% of the vote. He was able to win by getting and 52% of women, and breaking about even with men. If Palin was able to help with Hillary voters McCain will either break even with Obama on the female vote, or do better than Bush did. If Obama does 5+ points better than Kerry did with women in New Hampshire, this might show that Obama is holding the Hillary supporters, and that Palin is hurting the ticket.
In the Senate, it’s a rematch between Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and senator John Sununu (R-NH). Sununu beat Shaheen last time around, but Democrats blame that on Republicans jamming their phones on Election Day. Since Shaheen entered the race in 2007, Sununu has trailed Shaheen in just about every poll. She should win by at least five points. It’s a toss-up to lean Dem race with incumbent Democrat carol shay porter in a rematch with Republican Jeb Bradley whom she beat in 2006. The polls have it close, but Bradley barely won his primary with 52% of the vote. Seeing how two years ago he was a sitting congressman, that’s not a good sign. This may be a nail bitter, but look for porter to pull it off.
Virginia (Bush by 8%) – Obama +5.6
Virginia is going to be one of the most important states of this election. It hasn’t gone democratic since 1964, but Obama has been campaigning heavily there in the last few months, and seems optimistic. This is one of the states where both parties have reason to be optimistic. Democrats have been on the upswing since democrat Mark Warner won the governorship in 2001. Since then, Warner was succeeded democrat Tim Kaine, Democrat Jim Webb won a Senate seat in 2006, unseating George Allen after the maccaca incident, and they’ve won the Virginia Senate.
This is also home to one of the most famous examples of the Bradley effect. African American mayor Douglas Wilder (D-Richmond) ran for governor in 1989, and despite having a healthy lead for most of the race, won by less than a percentage point. It is possible this effect might still be in place, but after almost 20 years, and a rapidly changing electorate, it seems unlikely. Add to that, Obama’s impressive organization, and McCain’s chronic inattention to the state until the last few weeks of the campaign, and you have a possible Obama win.
Virginia has been voting for weeks now, and the early votes have heavily favored Obama. Mark Warner is also running for senate and will probably get more than 60% of the vote against former governor Jim Gilmore. This Senate seat is a sure pickup for the Dems. Democrats also appear likely to win the house seat of retiring Tom Davis. Had McCain focused more on Virginia and maybe spent more, he may be in a different position, but his belief that the state was not competitive will hurt him in the long run.
Eastern Florida (Bush by 5%) – Obama +1.7
The final polls will close in Florida at 8:00, and, in memory of Tim Russert, it should be noted that this election will ALSO be about FLORIDA, FLORIDA, FLORIDA!!!
Obama has been spending about three million dollars a week in that state for weeks now, and once the financial crisis started, it really started to give him traction. Obama has brought dispatched every heavy hitter in his arsenal to Florida, including both Clintons, the Biden’s, and of course, Al Gore. Florida’s Republican governor Charlie Crist has been less of an asset to McCain than he could have been. He hasn’t been campaigning as much as he could have. He went to Disney World on the day of a McCain rally, didn’t cut an ad for McCain until the last few days of the campaign, and he extended the early voting hours, which is likely to advantage Obama as, polls suggest that Obama leads in early voting by a 60/40 margin. Some say this is because Crist is still angry at the selection of Sarah Palin as the vice-presidential pick.
As a part of a greater trend, Republicans lead in early and absentee voting four years ago, but the Democrats enjoy heavy advantages in both this cycle. Due to the sensitive nature of the state and the lessons of the year 2000, don’t expect results until late in the night, 11 or 12 at the earliest.
As if to truly prove that they’re the most dysfunctional state in the union, Florida also has more than its fair share of close house races to keep track of. The first is Tim Mahoney’s seat in Florida’s 16th district. Two years ago, Democrat Tim Mahoney beat Mark Foley (R-FL) after Foley’s inappropriate, sexual text messages to under aged male pages were revealed. Two years later it was discovered that Mahoney cheated on his wife with a staffer, leading the greater party of America to ask what exactly is wrong with this district. Mahoney will lose his seat in a wave of constituent fury. He could have gone out with more dignity by apologizing and saying that he will stay on the ballot just to avoid the district from having another media circus like two years ago. Instead he denied everything. He’s done.
In better news for the Democrats, Dem Suzanne Kosmas looks poised to upset incumbent Republican Tom Feeny in the Florida 24th District. Feeny has connections with Super Lobbyist Jack Abramoff that have been dogging his campaign for months. Republican Rep Keller in the 8th district is also likely to lose, to Dem attorney Alan Grayson, who had one of the best campaign commercials of the election cycle featuring just Grayson, an airport hanger and a giant briefcase of money.
What to Watch For:
The state of Georgia probably represents the Democrats’ best chance at picking up a 60th seat in the US Senate as Jim Martin’s numbers are the only ones who are still increasing and hasn’t appeared to top out yet. Election rules in Georgia also dictate that if no candidate receives 50% of the vote, a runoff be held so we can be watching this race until mid-December.
In the House, pickups in South Carolina and Florida will be essential if the Democrats want a shot at the Veto-majority of 275. It’s a long-shot, but these seats are essential. They will definitely pick up the Tom Davis seat in Virginia and get a net gain in Florida. A strong showing in these states will establish a good rhythm for the rest of the night.
Saxby Chambliss (R-Incumbent) vs Jim Martin (D)
An unexpectedly close Senate race, first-term Senator Saxby Chambliss finds himself once again embroiled in a close race after narrowly defeating Democratic Incumbent Max Cleland in the Republican wave of 2002. That race was famous for its dirty politics as Chambliss accused Cleland, a triple amputee and veteran of the Vietnam War, of being soft on national security and being unpatriotic. Chambliss himself had gotten deferment for service during Vietnam.
Chambliss faces a virtual unknown in former State Representative Jim Martin whose sole state-wide election experience was a loss in the Lt. Governor race of 2006. So why is Chambliss, a popular Republican Senator in a deeply Republican state losing?
Well, mainly because of the bailout. Georgia conservatives, deeply mistrustful of expanded government spending and deeply hostile to “Wall Street” came out in large numbers in opposition of the bailout. Chambliss’s support of the Bill has not strengthened Martin, per say, but did heavily boost Libertarian candidate Allen Buckley, who is polling as much as 7% of the vote in some areas.
The contrast between these candidates is amazing and makes for some great political drama. Chambliss is the well-known, well-funded Georgia lawyer with the booming voice and the entourage that travels by a giant bus which would, in the words of Politico, “have enough room for the football team and the van.” Martin, meanwhile, is a slight, intellectual man who is more comfortable riding a small 14 seat bus as his vehicle of choice.
With a strong libertarian candidate, a heavy population of minorities and a deeply resentful conservative population, Georgia represent perhaps the best chance for Democrats to pick up seat #60. Look out for the African American turnout in this race, as it is at an uncommonly high rate of35% in early votes. If that number stays above 30%, there’s a good chance Jim Martin gets the requisite 50% vote to avoid a runoff and win a Senate seat.