Friday, October 22, 2004

ELECTION NIGHT CHEAT SHEET As promised, here's your hour-by-hour guide to election night 2004.

There are bound to be at least a few mistakes and misjudgments buried in here. (Spot one? E-mail us.) On the whole, though, this run-down should give readers an idea of what to expect as the evening of November 2 unfolds.

Three preliminary notes:

1) For the purposes of this post, best-case results for a candidate are results in which he wins every state he has a realistic chance of carrying, according to recent polls.

Expected results are the results each candidate's camp is counting on to provide the margin of victory. (These numbers are based on CONTRAPOSITIVE's own research and analysis, rather than public statements by either campaign.)

Finally, the needs category refers to the totals required for each candidate to maintain a realistic chance of ultimately emerging as the winner.

2) Results in many of the battleground states will likely be slow to trickle out, and in some states it may be hours (or weeks!) until we know the winner. So the hour-by-hour tally below is very much a theoretical snapshot. The actual counting of votes is likely to be a more fluid process, especially if the numbers are close.

3) All times are EST.


58 Electoral Votes in play

Polls close in Georgia, Kentucky, Indiana, South Carolina, Vermont and Virginia. (Some Florida and New Hampshire polling stations close as well.)

ANALYSIS: If it takes more than a few minutes for the networks to call Indiana or Virginia for Bush, that may bode well for John Kerry.

And if Daniel Mongiardo or Inez Tenenbaum are able to keep the numbers close in early returns from their respective Senate races in Kentucky and South Carolina, it means the Democrats have a chance of taking over the Senate.

Having learned from past mistakes, the networks are unlikely to have much to say about the early returns from New Hampshire or Florida. And CONTRAPOSITIVE doesn't expect any reputable news organizations to call the Sunshine State one way or the other till at least 8pm.

But if word trickles out that John Kerry is ahead in New Hampshire, we may be in for a long evening. By contrast, if Bush pulls ahead in that state, Florida starts to look like a "must" for Kerry.


Bush expects: 55
Bush needs: 55

Kerry best-case: 16
Kerry expects: 3
Kerry needs: 3


83 Electoral Votes in play

Polls close in Ohio and West Virginia.

ANALYSIS: This will be our first real sense of where the presidential election stands. Ohio's results may trickle in slowly, but the candidate who winds up with that state in his column will be breathing a lot easier, and the candidate who loses it will have almost no margin for error.

If Kerry winds up ahead in West Virginia, Karl Rove will be cursing the repeal of steel tariffs. The phrase "one-term president" will likely find its way into the thoughts of senior administration officials even before it passes through Dan Rather's lips.


Bush expects: 80
Bush needs: 75

Kerry best-case: 41
Kerry expects: 23
Kerry needs: 3


260 Electoral Votes in play

Polls close in Alabama, Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Florida, Illinois, Kansas, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and Tennessee.

ANALYSIS: A lot to keep track of here.

But first and foremost: If Bush wins New Jersey, it's over. Find a bad movie on cable, break out the booze, and cry yourself to sleep.

And in Pennsylvania: If Kerry is down here, it'll be wise to at least keep the booze close at hand.

Also of note: Keep an eye on the Senate race in Oklahoma--if Rep. Brad Carson is unable to give the Democrats a pick-up here, the Republicans will almost certainly retain control of the Senate.

And in Florida, Betty Castor's numbers will be another indication of where Democratic prospects for control of the Senate stand. Not quite as important as a Carson victory for Democrats, but close.

Speaking of Florida: Both candidates can win the election without picking up this state. The task is harder for Bush--especially if he doesn't win in New Hampshire.

So, to be clear: If, sometime between 8pm and 9pm, Kerry gets the call in both Ohio and Florida, it means George W. Bush is headed for the door. At that point only the Supreme Court will be able save him.


Bush best-case: 201
Bush expects: 161
Bush needs: 143

Kerry best-case: 179
Kerry expects: 150
Kerry needs: 91


281 Electoral Votes in play

Polls close in Arkansas and North Carolina.

ANALYSIS: All things being equal, if Kerry is able to keep either of these states close, the Bush team will have reason to sweat.


Bush best-case: 222
Bush expects: 182
Bush needs: 164

Kerry best-case: 190
Kerry expects: 150
Kerry needs: 112


431 Electoral Votes in play

Polls close in Arizona, Colorado, Louisiana, Nebraska New Mexico, New York, Michigan, Minnesota, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Texas, Wisconsin and Wyoming.

ANALYSIS: At this point, the election could be over--but only if George W. Bush has won contested states (Arkansas, Florida and Ohio) earlier in the evening. (In theory, Kerry could also wrap up the election at 9PM, but he would need to have won North Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia to do it--far less likely.)

A few minutes after 9PM, though, in all likelihood, the result will still be up for grabs. All eyes will then turn to Michigan. If Kerry wins there (as polls suggest he should) attention will shift to Minnesota and New Mexico.

If the Democratic nominee has taken Pennsylvania and at least one of New Hampshire and Maine--and if things are either split or not yet decided in Ohio and Florida--the contest now enters the nailbitting phase on both sides.

Of the two toss-up states with polls closing at 9PM, Bush has the better shot in New Mexico. A win there could take him to the brink of victory.

By contrast, a Kerry upset in Colorado or Arizona would be a catastrophe for the Bush campaign. Expect smoke to pour out of the ears of conservative pundits if Republicans lose in either of those states.

If Kerry is able to build a big lead early in Minnesota, that will bode well for the Democrats in Wisconsin--which (at least if Kerry is on the plus-side) is likely to be tighter. An even race in Minnesota could be a bad sign for Kerry.

On the Senate side, with the polls closing in South Dakota and Colorado, we should have a reasonably good idea of where control of that body stands. If Tom Daschle and Ken Salazar are both able to squeak by, the Democrats should have a shot at gaining control. Without those victories, forget about it.

Finally, on the presidential front: If things remain close (which is to say, if Bush and Kerry are both near their targeted tallies of 257 and 200, respectively) you will want to keep an eye on the referendum to amend Colorado's state constitution. (Note: Totals below assume that this proposal fails.) You may not have heard much about it yet, but you might just be in for a crash course.


Bush best-case: 372
Bush expects: 257
Bush needs: 239

Kerry best-case: 279
Kerry expects: 200
Kerry needs: 181


451 Electoral Votes in play

Polls close in Iowa, Montana, Nevada and Utah.

ANALYSIS: We will probably know who the next President is sometime before 11PM--or not until December.

But even if things remain close, it's likely that one of the two camps will have lost a state it expected to win by this point. Iowa and Nevada will are the last solid opportunities for either side to pull an upset.

Unless Kerry has won both Florida and Ohio or pulled off a surprise somewhere (e.g. in Missouri, or Arkansas) earlier in the evening, he will need Iowa.

Similarly, unless President Bush has won both Florida and Ohio or pulled upsets of his own (e.g. in Michigan or Pennsylvania), Nevada will be essential for his chances.

To put it in even starker terms: If at this stage Bush doesn't have 259 actual or potential electoral votes--potential wins in states with closed polls but no clear victor--he is extraordinarily unlikely to win re-election.

If at this point Kerry has accumulated fewer than 193 actual or potential electoral votes, for Democrats it will be all over but the crying.


Bush best-case: 392
Bush expects: 276
Bush needs: 259

Kerry best-case: 291
Kerry expects: 206
Kerry needs: 193


535 Electoral Votes in play

Polls close in California, Hawaii, Idaho, North Dakota, Oregon and Washington.

ANALYSIS: By now we will either have a winner, or we'll be waiting for confirmation from uncontested states. Or David Boies will be headed somewhere on a plane.

President Bush does have a chance of sneaking past Kerry in both Oregon and Washington. But if he's counting on those states for his margin of victory at 11PM, it means he's in deep, deep trouble.

On the other hand, if the election is tight all night long, we could wind up having to wait all the way until 1AM for Alaska, with the country's final three electoral votes, to seal the deal for Bush.

Not a pleasant prospect.

Also at 1AM, Democrats will find out whether Tony Knowles has given them a once-in-a-generation Senate pick-up in Alaska. Depending on what happens elsewhere, a Knowles win will either be icing on the cake, or an almost worthless consolation.


Bush best-case: 399
Bush expects: 283
Bush needs: 266

Kerry best-case: 368
Kerry expects: 294
Kerry needs: 270

[Clarification: Bush needs only 266 electoral votes at 11pm because he is sure to win Alaska's three votes later in the evening. If the night ends in a 269-269 tie, the election will be thrown into the Republican-controlled House of Representative, where Bush is likely to triumph.]


The Green Papers: 2004 Poll Closing Times.
Electoral Vote Predictor.

Find an error? E-mail us.

CONTRAPOSITIVE is edited by Dan Aibel. Dan's a playwright. He lives in New York City.