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Key election-night indicators: An hour-by-hour viewer's guide
Here are the key races and results to look for — from 6 p.m. on — and what they mean in the big picture
 
With Tea Party favorite Rand Paul well ahead in the polls, the networks could make an early call in the Kentucky Senate race.
With Tea Party favorite Rand Paul well ahead in the polls, the networks could make an early call in the Kentucky Senate race.
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It's election day and many people predict the end is nigh for the Democratic Congress. While the final tally may not be known for days or weeks, some of the early results will foretell the magnitude of the win for Republicans. As you watch cable or network coverage of the election returns, here are some of the key moments — all times are Eastern Standard — to look out for:

6 p.m.
The main event: Polls close in Kentucky, where Libertarian Tea Party favorite Rand Paul is up against Democrat Jack Conway. If exit polls show Paul far ahead, say Sheri and Allan Rivlin at The Huffington Post, "the networks could make a call" in that race as early as 6 p.m.
Others to look out for: Defeat for Baron Hill in Indiana's 9th District could signal the beginning of the Republican takeover in the House, says Steve Singiser at Daily Kos. A "worst case scenario" moment for the Democrats would be if GOP challenger Todd Lally defeats Rep. John Yarmuth in Kentucky's 3rd District — a seat once thought safe. "A Yarmuth loss would be a sign of a devastating Republican deluge," says Jessica Rettig at U.S. News & World Report.

7 p.m.
The main event: Virginia congressman Tom Perriello vs. Republican state senator Robert Hurt is "a race to watch," say Sheri and Allan Rivlin at The Huffington Post. Perriello won the former Republican stronghold in 2008, and has been a key supporter of the Obama agenda. "Democrats will be very interested to see how badly Perriello loses," says Marc Ambinder at The Atlantic. "And they do expect him to lose."
Others to look out for: Polls will close in Florida, and some of the congressional seats will be called at this time. Alan Grayson, the outspoken liberal representative from the 8th district, is now considered the underdog in his race. The winner of the state's Senate contest — a three-way battle between Marco Rubio (R), Charlie Crist (I) and Kendrick Meek (D) — will likely be announced later on, though Rubio is well ahead in the polls.

7:30 p.m.
The main event: It's crunch time in the Ohio governor's race, a face-off between Democratic incumbent Ted Strickland and former GOP representative John Kasich. Strickland would be a "friend in the statehouse" for Obama in 2012, says Larry J. Sabato at the BBC, but Kasich is "thought to be slightly ahead."
Others to look out for: Polls will close in West Virginia, where governor Joe Manchin (D) and John Raese (R) are competing for the late Sen. Robert Byrd's seat. A win for Manchin would be great news for Democrats hoping to retain control of the Senate, "but don't expect a quick call," say Sheri and Allan Rivlin at The Huffington Post.

8 p.m.
The main event: Polls close in Connecticut, where Republican Linda McMahon is taking on state attorney general Richard Blumenthal. Victory for the former WWE chief executive would boost the GOP's "chances for a takeover of the Senate," say Sheri and Allan Rivlin at The Huffington Post, but Blumenthal appears to be pulling ahead.
Others to look out for: If the polls are correct, Chris Coons should comfortably win his Senate race against Christine O'Donnell in Delaware. Another race to watch around this time may be progressive Joe Sestak's battle against Tea Party-backed Pat Toomey in Pennsylvania. "The GOPer had led since the primaries," says Jessica Rettig at U.S. News & World Report, "but Sestak has closed the gap." In the House races, "we should have some idea which scenario is coalescing," say Sheri and Allan Rivlin at The Huffington Post. If Republicans take more than half of the 22 uncertain races closing at 8 p.m., they could be in the process of racking up "truly historic gains in the House."

8:30 p.m.
The main event: If Democrats can just hold onto their seats in Pennsylvania, says Steve Singiser at Daily Kos, they could actually retain control of the House. Losing only one seat in the state translates to "a good night for the Dems. 2-4 means the House majority is very much in the balance. 5+ is likely to prove difficult to make up elsewhere."
Others to look out for: Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA), the chairman of the House financial services committee, is facing a closer-than-expected contest. "Things will have gone terribly wrong for Democrats if [Frank] loses," says Jessica Rettig at U.S. News & World Report.

9 p.m.
The main event: The networks could be ready to call the House at around this time, suggests Steve Singiser at Daily Kos. "The GOP expects to have the job finished before the 10 o'clock hour strikes." After this point, it will be all about how big the wave is.
Others to look out for: "The Senate picture comes into focus" at this time too, says The Atlantic's Mark Ambinder. Wisconsin and North Dakota's Senate races are "almost certain" to be called for the Republicans. If Raese and Toomey have won in West Virginia and Pennsylvania, respectively, then "the GOP will have a shot at Senate control."

10 p.m.
The main event: The result of Harry Reid's bitter fight against Sharron Angle could soon emerge, as the polls close in Nevada. "Reid's defeat would color the night Red," says Larry J. Sabato at the BBC, but "his victory would delight Democrats even in the face of other losses." The race is still considered a toss-up.
Others to look out for: Four Democrats are hoping to hold onto Congressional seats in Arizona, but all are in play, say Sheri and Allan Rivlin at The Huffington Post. A quartet of victories for the GOP could make the difference between a good night and a great night.

11 p.m.
The main event: If Carly Fiorina can defeat Democrat incumbent Barbara Boxer in California, and Dino Rossi (R) can overcome Sen. Patty Murray in Washington, Republicans would stand a strong chance of seizing the Senate.
Others to look out for: Cable news networks could be ready to call the race for governor of California, where Democrat Jerry Brown has a strong lead against eBay billionaire Meg Whitman. The polls don't close until 1 a.m. in Alaska, but it could take "days or weeks" to determine whether write-in candidate Sen. Lisa Murkowski has enough support to defeat Republican candidate Joe Miller.

 

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