Here is the timeline and what to expect and what to look for as you watch election coverage tonight along with my final predictions for who will win.
6PM: Polls in some areas of IN and KY close.
7PM: Polls close in FL, GA, SC, VA, VT, parts of NH, remaining areas of IN and KY.
FL and VA are key states. Romney needs to take both of these. Right now the race in FL is tied. VA could also go either way, although Obama is ahead by 1 to 2 points. If Obama wins VA, that would be a very bad sign for Romney. Don’t expect a call in VA unless a candidate is up by 2 points or more. If VA and FL are called for Obama that would all but signal the end for Romney. I don’t expect that to happen. I think Romney will win FL and Obama VA but the margin of victory will likely be slim for both and the networks probably won’t call FL or VA until sometime Wed. Note: Some polls in FL don’t close until 8PM and Democratic-leaning areas of the state tend to be the last to report. So, don’t be surprised at an early lead for Romney.
7:30PM: Polls close in NC, WV and all important OH. NC will probably go for Romney. OH could decide the election. If Obama wins OH, it will be very, very difficult for Romney to win regardless of what happens in FL and VA. OH probably will be close, so don’t expect an early call. If it is very close which is likely, then we may not know who won OH for days.
NOTE: Nate Silver at 538 now predicts that Obama will win OH by 3 to 4 points and gives Obama a 91% chance of winning. Real Clear Politics average of the most recent polls in OH has Obama a 50% and Romney 47.1%, a 2.9% lead for Obama. If these most recent projections and poll averages are right, Obama should have a good night.
8PM: All polls in NH, FL, and PA will close along with a number of other states. Looks like NH will go for Obama, but it could be close but most polls have Obama winning by 3 to 4 points. We should find out more about how FL is shaping up after 8PM. Romney has made noise about PA but Obama should win there. Recent polls in PA have Obama winning by 4 to 6 points. A surprise Romney win in PA would be a very bad sign for Obama.
8:30PM: Polls close in Ark. Romney should win easily.
9PM: Polls close in a bunch more states but the ones to watch are WI and CO. Obama should take WI. Most polls have him up by 4 to 5 points there. CO could be close but Obama is up in most polls by 2 points or more. We may not know about CO until Wed since up to 10% of the vote may not be counted on election night. An early call for Obama in CO would be very good news. My bet is that we won’t find out who won CO until sometime Wed.
10PM: Polls close in four more states including the important battleground states of IA and NV. If Obama has taken OH and WI and/or VA or FL then IA and CO will be critical for Romney. Obama wins in IA and NV along with wins in OH and some other battleground states would likely seal the election. Most polls have Obama leading in IA by about 3 points. He’s ahead by 4 to 5 points in NV.
11PM: Polls close in the western states of CA, OR, WA. Obama should win easily. These are the states that could push him over the 300 electoral vote mark assuming he has done reasonably well in the battleground states of OH, WI, VA, FL, NH and so on.
Midnight/1AM: Polls close in Alaska and HI. No surprises. Romney gets Alaska, Obama HI. No one will be still watching unless we are still waiting for a call on states like OH, FL, and VA. We should pretty well know the outcome of the election unless at least two of these states haven’t been called because they are close and we have to wait until absentee ballots are counted. In that case, expect the waiting to drag on for hours or days. Also, if the election is close in these key battleground states we will probably see a ton of legal challenges. Worst case scenario is that we see a replay of 2000 with weeks of back and forth. Hope not but it could happen.
MY FINAL PREDICTIONS
I think Obama and Romney will split FL and VA with Romney barely taking FL and Obama barely taking VA.OH looks like it is moving strongly in Obama’s direction, so I think he will win there.
Obama should win NH and have no problem winning PA.The same is true of WI.
CO may be close but I think Obama will win there.The same is true of IA.
Obama should take NV.If Obama carries these battleground states, he should win re-election with 302 electoral votes.