The Trailer: What to know when it’s (almost) all over but the counting
In this edition: What to watch tonight, hour by hour; when good polls go bad; the amendments you’ll be hearing about later; and what both parties are worried about.
I’m hearing reports of high turnout in some areas and low turnout in others, and this is The Trailer.
What’s going to happen in a few hours? We’ll get a very early sense of things before 8 p.m., but anyone who survived a 2016 campaign remembers how early trends favoring Democrats were wiped out by unexpected Republican strength in the kind of rural areas less often visited by reporters or called by pollsters.
This is what to track hour by hour, all times Eastern. Given the problems in a number of states, don’t be surprised if some polls remain open past closing time; as ever, voters still in line when polls close are still allowed to vote, which also can add to the counting time.
6 p.m. Polls will close in much of Kentucky, including across the 6th Congressional District — the only one really being contested. There’ll be a temptation to predict the rest of the night based on whether Democrat Amy McGrath is competitive with Rep. Andy Barr, and the temptation is fair, as McGrath outraised Barr by $3 million, forcing Republican PACs to bail him out. But the district backed Donald Trump by 15 points and Mitt Romney by 12 points; Republicans can win here and still lose the House.
What to watch: McGrath’s margin in Fayette County (Lexington) and Franklin County (Frankfort), which could cast around 50 percent of the districtwide vote. In 2012, when Barr first won the Kentucky seat, he lost Fayette by just seven points, lost Franklin by 14 points, and won the race by three points.
7 p.m. Polls close in Georgia, Indiana, South Carolina, Virginia and the rest of Kentucky. In short order, we’ll learn if Democrats’ polling was accurate when we see if Rep. Barbara Comstock (R), in Virginia, has any chance whatsoever as polls come in. Watch Fairfax and Loudon counties, which (together) narrowly broke for Comstock in 2016 and which cast around half the vote; if the patterns from last year’s Virginia gubernatorial election hold, Comstock should be losing them badly.
In Georgia, which has dominated coverage of gubernatorial races in recent days, what will matter is not so much the margins but the vote totals in Democratic counties. In 2016, heavily black DeKalb County in suburban Atlanta cast more than 300,000 votes; two years earlier, it cast a bit over 200,000 votes. A heavy turnout there bodes well for both gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams and for Lucy McBath, the Democrat running in the 6th Congressional District.
7:30 p.m. Polls close in North Carolina, Ohio and West Virginia. Republicans could lose the House without losing any seats in these states, but if any are in danger, it’ll be telling. They enter today thinking that North Carolina’s 9th and 13th districts remain competitive, as does Ohio’s 1st District; if West Virginia’s 3rd District is in any way close, that suggests some ancestral Democrats coming home and probably picking Sen. Joe Manchin at the top of the ticket, too. Look for Mingo County, which has always voted for Manchin by a landslide but then voted by 69 points for Donald Trump. And look for Cabell County, where Trump made his final visit to the state before the election.
8 p.m. Polls close across Alabama, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Tennessee, as well as most of Texas. Republicans get some of their first chances to play offense at this point; they are challenging Rep. Stephanie Murphy in Florida’s 7th District and trying to win the open 1st District of New Hampshire. Murphy won the Orange County (Orlando) part of her district by 16 points to win it, so watch that margin; in New Hampshire, Democrats have been building a lead in Manchester, so look to see whether their candidate, Chris Pappas, is adding to the usual nine-point Democratic margin there.
8:30 p.m. Polls close in Arkansas. Democrats have become bearish on Democrat Clarke Tucker‘s odds of beating Rep. French Hill in Arkansas’s 2nd District; if it’s at all close, it’s bad for Republicans.
9 p.m. Polls close in Arizona, Colorado, Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Nebraska, New Mexico and New York; in most of South Dakota, Wisconsin and Wyoming; and the rest of Texas. Several of these states already saw high turnout (or higher absentee voting) in Democratic areas, especially Arizona, New York and Texas; the telltale state will be Michigan, where nearly all voting happens on Election Day and Republicans have argued that they gained in the final days. The 2016 election there was decided, basically, by the Trump surge in Macomb County and a Democratic sputter in Wayne County; any Democratic advantage in Macomb County would suggest that the Democrats have swept. (In 2012, both Barack Obama and Sen. Debbie Stabenow easily carried Macomb.)
10 p.m. Polls close in Iowa, Montana, most of Idaho and North Dakota, the rest of South Dakota, and Utah. By this point in the night, party operatives will know whether the election is still close or whether it’s broken in one direction, but the most interesting region to watch will be eastern Iowa, which broke hard away from Democrats in 2014 and 2016. Watch vote-rich Dubuque County, which gave Barack Obama a 15-point margin in 2012 then broke for Donald Trump by just one point; Democrats insist that they’ve recovered their strength in the region, and indeed, they led by a landslide in early voting.
11 p.m. Polls close on the West Coast: California, Hawaii, Nevada, the rest of Idaho and North Dakota, Oregon, and Washington. Nevada counts quickly; the other states, less so. If anyone is able to call the races in California’s 10th, 25th, 39th, 45th and 48th districts by midnight, it would be a surprise; whichever party can pull off a quick win is probably having a good night statewide. But be prepared for races that end with two- to three-point margins not to be called for a few weeks. It’ll be the same story in Washington’s 8th District, though keep an eye on the 3rd and 6th districts to see if there was any late recovery for Republicans in places where they seemed to be losing ground in October.
Midnight. Polls will close in most of Alaska, where both the race for governor and for the sole House seat closed to single digits in the final week. Late-reported ballots have tended to favor Democrats; every time Alaska has had a close election recently, the counting didn’t finish until mid-November.
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If you want to guess tonight’s results, here’s the good news about polls: They were mostly right in 2016. On Election Day, an average of national polls put Hillary Clinton 3.2 points ahead of Donald Trump; she edged him out in the popular vote by 2.1 points.
Here’s the good news for Republicans: Two years ago, pollsters did the worst in individual state races. They missed the final result in Michigan by 3.9 points, in Pennsylvania by 2.6 points, and in Wisconsin by a remarkable 7.2 points.
Here’s the good news for Democrats: Since that election, polling errors have typically gone in their direction. One year ago, they outperformed the final Virginia polls by 5.6 points. One month later, Alabama Democrats ran 3.7 points ahead of the final polls, and elected Sen. Doug Jones.
And here’s the punchline: Campaigns themselves are not overly focused on the public polls today. Both parties have their own numbers that suggest that Democrats are favored to win the House, narrowly; they differ on who’s ahead in Senate races in Arizona and Missouri.
It’s easy enough to look at today’s polls. Here are the most recent races that broke unexpectedly against the party leading in final polls.
Arizona Senate. Six years ago, Sen. Jeff Flake (R) won a closer-than-expected race to win his single term; he led by 5.5 points going into Election Day and won by three. Two years later, Republicans ran 4.4 points ahead of their final polls to retain the governor’s mansion.
Florida Senate. Gov. Rick Scott (R) trailed in the final polls of his 2014 reelection bid; he ran 1.7 points ahead of those numbers, good enough for a narrow win. Two years later, the president ran 0.8 points ahead of his final polls, winning the state. The entire Democratic theory of this race is that Andrew Gillum’s candidacy is exciting voters who skipped both of those elections and that it is helping Sen. Bill Nelson (D); a polling error of the size we saw in 2014 and 2016 would suggest a Democratic win.
Michigan Senate. Republicans have spent the past 24 hours talking about two polls, from Mitchell Research and Change Research, that showed Republican John James down by just three points to Sen. Debbie Stabenow in the final weekend. That diverges in a big way from Democrats’ internal polls, but Michigan is perhaps the hardest Rust Belt swing state to poll. Remember that big polling error in 2016? In 2012, the last time Stabenow was on the ballot, she led the final polls by 13.3 points and won by 20.8 points, while Barack Obama also dramatically outperformed his final polls. Republicans will point out that they’ve never nominated a black candidate in a high-profile statewide race until James; Democrats say that their 2016 collapse was the result of a sleepy, late-starting mobilization, which was not a problem for them this year.
Nevada Senate. In every race this decade, Democrats here have outperformed the final polls. In 2010, famously, polling found Harry Reid trailing by 2.7 points; he won by 5.6 points. In 2012, the last time Sen. Dean Heller appeared on the ballot, he led by four points in final polls and won by just 1.2 points. The gap in 2016 was more narrow, but it was there; Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto ran 0.6 points ahead of the final polls.
What’s it mean? Again, the parties rely on their own data, not public polls, which are more useful for driving narratives and donations; Democrats entered Tuesday feeling cautiously optimistic about Arizona and Nevada, more optimistic about Florida, and completely baffled by the Republican optimism about Michigan.
WHAT I’M WATCHING
As we’ve written in this space before, liberals and conservatives both put measures on state ballots that could dramatically change those states. The top five to watch:
Idaho Issue 2, Montana Issue 185, Nebraska Issue 427, Utah Issue 3: Various versions of Medicaid expansion.
Florida Amendment 4: The amendment that would allow most nonviolent felons to regain voting rights, which could affect more than 1.4 million voters, disproportionately nonwhite. It needs 60 percent of the vote to pass.
Colorado Issue Y and Z, Michigan Issue 2, Missouri Issue 1, Utah Issue 4: Nonpartisan redistricting reform.
Michigan Issue 1, North Dakota, Utah Issue 2, Missouri Issues 2, 3, and C: The first two would legalize recreational marijuana use; the last batch would legalize medical marijuana.
North Carolina: A package of non-numbered amendments would cap the state’s tax rate and devolve power for judicial appointments from the governor to a Republican legislature; Democrats are trying to defeat each of these. Five of the state’s former governors, representing both parties, have campaigned to beat the amendments.
Here’s what conservatives are looking for today.
Is the RNC’s ground game real? The president’s party committee has piled up cash since 2016 and announced a $250 million investment in turnout operations, training thousands of volunteers. The Congressional Leadership Fund did the same, investing in campaign offices across most of the swing House districts it was working to save for Republicans. It’s a bit of a reversal of 2016, when Democrats built a massive, centralized turnout operation; the difference now is that Republicans are building on the machine that won two years ago.
Could the president convert his fans into midterm voters? Some of that question’s been answered already, as Republicans are set to lose a number of Senate and gubernatorial races in states that Trump flipped in 2016. But in the final hours before the polls close, Republicans wonder if the second-tier Senate candidates in deep red states — West Virginia’s Patrick Morrisey and Montana’s Matt Rosendale — can win late-deciding voters who approve of the president. No polls have shown them leading, but polls have also shown the president cruising well above 50 percent approval in those states. No modern president has been able to pull off this transference, and for the next few hours, Republicans will ask whether Trump is different.
Here’s what liberals are looking for today.
Did Latino voters end up surging? Some Democrats are getting deja vu, remembering the parade of hot takes about Alabama’s 2017 Senate race that asked whether black voters were motivated to turn out. After months of stories about Democrats failing to motivate Latino voters, that slice of the electorate has grown faster than any other. The DCCC invested early in Latino voter contact and persuasion and ended the campaign with ads targeted to those voters.
Did the explosion of new liberal groups boost turnout? For a number of reasons, from sheer enthusiasm to Democratic discontent with its party organizations, the period since 2016 has seen dozens of new groups spring up to turn out Democrats, as well as older groups reconstitute with more money for turnout operations. Color of Change, for example, had $3 million to spend on its PAC in 2016, to turn out nonwhite votes; it had $5 million this time.
“We moved 2,000 folks up ladders of engagement, training them on digital organizing, door-knocking skills, everything,” said Color of Change’s Rashad Robinson. “We did that in every place from the St. Louis district attorney race to Florida and Michigan. People who have never participated in politics are giving hours and hours to engaging voters; we focused on low-propensity black voters and made over 1 million contacts.”
Oh, yeah: What about voter suppression? If Stacey Abrams loses outright in Georgia today, and if Kris Kobach wins in Kansas, that’ll be two states where the Republicans in charge of their own election process prevailed — after days full of complaints about confusing polling place moves, voter registration problems and broken machines.
“Think you’ll know who won on election night? Not so fast,” by Bonnie Berkowitz
Your complete guide to how this thing could drag on for days or weeks.
“Forget the Russians. On this Election Day, it’s Americans peddling disinformation and hate speech,” by Craig Timberg and Tony Romm
The complete guide you didn’t even know you needed: To all of the false claims being circulated about the candidates today.
. . . 21 days until Mississippi’s Senate runoff, if one is needed
. . . 28 days until Georgia’s gubernatorial runoff, if one is needed