Election Night Guide to the House
Four hundred thirty five House races are far too many to keep your eye upon, and there's really no need. As we've mentioned before, about three-fourths of those are safe, roughly half for each party--there will probably not be a single upset out of those 320 or so seats. Still, a hundred or more races are too much to keep track of (Nate Silver and 538.com promise to attempt to do so, and for a much more elaborate version of what I'm trying to do here, see this posting he made today.)
What we have here are 12 races where Democratic incumbents are struggling to hold their seats, and two where Republicans are in the same position. I have them collected into four groups below, corresponding roughly to time zones when the polls close. All fourteen of these are very close, ones where different observers differ about who is more likely to win, but they are not all 50-50, either; they represent different shades of pink or light blue (or grey). A majority in each group will indicate story lines in the evening: who takes the early lead, how far up the beach the wave will reach, and whether there will be a Western-state firewall preventing a Democratic rout.
Roughly speaking, you can consider each of these to represent three seats, and collectively the result will give a good indication over the range of likely outcomes in the House races: if the Democrats win all these, it would indicate something like the best-case, say a loss of 28 seats (there are about that many that are basically a lock for Republican pickups); then, for each Republican win below, add 3, until you get to the high end, a gain of about 70 seats estimated if they win all 14. The Republicans' target is a net gain of 39, which would be indicated here by winning four of the fourteen.
Two other sources (besides Silver's) I've consulted to include some other viewpoints on these races. One is Larry Sabato's "Crystal Ball"--he's predicting a 55-seat pickup for the Republicans. To his credit, he goes to one side or the other on every seat; to his discredit, he's basically picking Republicans in every race that's polled as a tie or near-tie. The other is the "Dashboard" on Huffington Post--they've utilized the services of Pollster.com to summarize polling results and predict outcomes. I'm not sure what they are planning to do Election Night, but I recommend their current material as being highly readable and not excessively partisan. Their current House forecasts: Democrats 157 safe, 38 leaning; Republicans 169 safe, 43 leaning; 28 tossups.
KY - 6; polls close 4 p.m. Mountain Daylight Time Kentucky should be the earliest state with readable results. Democrat Chandler has a fighting chance to hold onto a moderate district. This will also be a great indicator for the state's Senate race outcome; a big Democratic win for Chandler could mean a surprisingly tough night for Rand Paul, a must-win seat for Republicans' hopes to get control. HuffPost: Leans Dem; Sabato: Leans Dem; Silver: 52% chance for Dems to hold.
IN-9; polls close 4 p.m. MDT This is always a closely contested seat in the southeastern part of Indiana, currently represented by moderate Democrat Baron Hill. If the pendulum has swung strongly to the Republicans this time, this seat should be declared for them fairly quickly. HuffPost: LD; Sabato: LR; Silver: 69% R.
FL 8; closes at 5 p.m. MDT. A good indicator of whether the Democrats have lost the debate. One of the highest-profile House races, but also a good test for the fate of liberal Democrats in moderate districts (this one is a Republican-leaning district in the suburbs of Orlando, usually held by Republicans until 2008). Lots of money from the left for incumbent Alan Grayson, a very outspoken progressive Democrat; he's opposed by a right-winger (with huge inputs from national Republican-backing organizations) with the fortunate name of Dan Webster, who hasn't yet put his foot in it too badly, while Grayson has done it, more than once. Recent polls suggest that Grayson is an underdog. HP: LR Sabato: LR; Silver: 82% R
How Big the Wave?
These races will give a good indication how broad the danger to Democratic seats, beyond the obvious ones which have strong, built-in Republican advantages.
NH -2; closes 6 p.m. MDT A race I expect the Republicans to win, if it's to be a big night for House Republicans (i.e., picking up control of the House by more than 10-15 seats). New Hampshire has been a key swing state in recent elections, really the only one in the Northeast. The Democratic candidate, Mary-Anne Kuster, is a solid progressive; she seeks to replace another, Paul Hodes, who gave up this seat in the western half of the state to run for Senate (unfortunately, it seems that he will be unsuccessful). Kuster has picked up some national Democratic support and appears to have a very small lead in recent polling. HP: Toss Up (TO); Sabato: LR; Silver: 51% R
PA - 8; closes 6 p.m. MDT This seat in the Philadelphia suburbs is a closely balanced one. Patrick Murphy is the Democratic incumbent, running against a former Representative, Michael Fitzpatrick. The suburbs are a key component of the Republicans' resurgence, and this will be a test of their success in trying to recover a national majority. HP - TO; Sabato - LR; Silver: 71% Rep (52-48 projected outcome)
SD - At Large; closes 6 p.m. MDT Stephanie Herseth-Sandlin is a moderate Democrat, the kind most endangered in this election, but has done well in past elections and has run a strong campaign, so she has hopes of holding this statewide seat in South Dakota. A big part of the Republicans' push is driven by a recovery of strength in the upper Midwest. HP: LR; Sabato: LR; Silver: 69% R
These are among the closest of the many close races in the middle part of the evening, when the majority of states' polling closes; I'm looking for these to be too close to call into the late night, but when they are called, their outcomes will be huge in deciding which way the national seesaw tips.
First, a possible Democratic pickup:
IL - 10; polls close at 6 p.m. This district is in Illinois' suburban North shore, and it has been vacated by Republican Senate candidate Kirk. In 2006 and 2008, none of the close races were breaking for the Republicans, and they weren't picking up any seats. This is not the highest probability Democratic pickup district (there are two more likely: one in Delaware and one in Louisiana), but this is exactly the kind of district that the Democrats need to have a chance to repel the Republican wave and hold onto the house. HP: TO; Sabato: LD; Silver: 67% Dem pickup.
IL - 17; 6 p.m. MDT Besides being a very close race, the symbolism of the candidates' names (Hare vs. Schilling) is irresistible: The obvious comment is that the Democrats are running zigzag like rabbits, trying to find cover, while the Republicans are pulling out big coin to buy the election. This is a gerrymandered-looking district sprawling along Illinois' western border with the Mississippi River (i.e., north of the St. Louis area). HP: LR - Sabato: LR; Silver - 62% R
TX - 23; closes 6 p.m. MDT This is a pure test in the Latino-majority portion of Texas. If Ciro Rodriguez loses, it will be a good indication that the Democrats have failed to keep the Hispanics' support, or at least failed to get them to turn out to vote. Indications are not particularly good. HP - LR; Sabato - LR; Silver: 57% R (49-48)
WV - 1; closes 5:30 p.m. MDT. This is an extremely close race for a seat being vacated, a swing district in an important state (West Virginia) for Democrats' hopes to hold onto the Senate -- close to a must-win for them. This is the district in the northern (industrial) part of state. HP: LD; Sabato: LR; Silver -60%R
Is There a Western Firewall?
Holding onto the West is critical if the Democrats want to hold onto the Senate; in the House, if the contest is still in doubt, these seats will be critical for them.
NV - 3; closes at 8 p.m. MDT Nevada has three Congressional districts (it will pick up another after 2010's census, unless the population has nosedived too much); one is solid Republican, one (within Las Vegas) solid Democratic, so this district, in the area around Las Vegas, is the swing district. The incumbent Democrat, Dana Titus, won narrowly last time and is fighting a terrible local economic condition--it may be trending away from her late, just as it seems to be doing for Sen. Harry Reid; a good result for her would probably portend this same for Reid in the single most high-profile Senate race. HP: TO; Sabato: LR; Silver - 61% R.
AZ - 8; closes at 8 p.m. MDT Gabrielle Giffords is a moderate in a diverse district centered in Tucson, Arizona. Compared to the battles around Phoenix, there is a more civil tone about the immigration brouhaha. She's trying to hold on, but Arizona is trending heavily Republican this year and a couple other seats in the state seem very likely to go over. HP: TO; Sabato - LD; Silver - 58% D (50-48)
CO - 3; closes at 7 p.m. MDT John Salazar, brother of Interior Secretary and former Colorado Senator Ken Salazar, represents a sprawling district in the western part of the state. Colorado is as critical in this election as any state; a big success for John Hickenlooper in the Governor's race, and a possible upset win by appointed incumbent Senator Michael Bennet, could together have positive coattails for Salazar, but outside of Denver, the state has swung strongly toward the Republicans. HP: ?; Sabato: LR; Silver - 78% R (52-47)
Finally, the potential tiebreaker:
HI - 1; polls close at 11 p.m. MDT? If it comes down to midnight and the control of the House is still undecided, this will become a focus, and because it's a possible Democratic pickup, the fact that the number of Republicans' likely pickups might have passed 39 could be deceiving. This is one of two districts in Hawaii, just Honolulu and its environs. Charles Djou is the Republican incumbent, but he's only been in office since this spring, when two candidates split the Democratic vote. Polls indicate this is extremely close but perhaps trending toward Democrat Colleen Hanabusa. HP: TO; Sabato: LR; Silver: 64% Dem.
As for the races here in New Mexico (closing time 7 p.m. MDT), they are all on Nate's chart, but they're not quite close enough to make mine. The 1st district (Albuquerque area) looks as though it will be held by the first-term incumbent Democrat, Adam Heinrich, by a margin of 5-10 points. In our 3rd district, the first-term incumbent Democrat, Ben Ray Lujan, should win by 10-20 points, though it isn't quite a walkover. The 2nd district, though, in the southern part of the state, is a classic prime Republican target for a pickup district held by a Blue Dog. The moderate-to-conservative first-term incumbent, Harry Teague, has done his best but is likely to give up this Republican-leaning district to the guy who held it for three terms before trying to run for the Senate. It'll be pretty close, but a Democratic hold would be a bigger surprise than any of the tossup or near-tossup races I've listed above.