Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
October 31, 2004
POLITICS: Election Night Timeline
Here's a handy scorecard of the poll-closing times in each state on Tuesday night. The first states to close up the polls entirely start at 7pm EST and include two early indicators: New Hampshire and Virginia. Bush is going to win Virginia, but if it's close, that could be a bad indicator. New Hampshire has been fiercely contested; I expect Kerry to take it, but a Bush victory is certainly still possible. Bush taking New Hampshire would not be fatal but it would be a very bad sign for Kerry, as this is the swing state in which Kerry has spent the most time (other than perhaps Iowa) and the one most likely to be receptive to his New England persona.
At 7:30 we get North Carolina and West Virginia, two more Southern states that could be warnings of weakness for Bush but that Bush will win even if he's losing. And we get Ohio, although for a variety of reasons, if Ohio is as close as everyone thinks it will be, it could be a long time before the networks announce a winner. Recall that the networks appear to have absorbed the lessons of incorrectly calling Florida for Gore early on Election Night 2000 (before the polls closed in the most Republican parts of the state, in fact); any state that looks close won't get announced until they are sure.
8pm brings the witching hour for a huge swath of the country, including Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Again, if we're looking for knockout blows, look at MI and NJ; if Bush wins NJ, Kerry is toast in a big way, and if he wins MI, the math gets really ugly for Kerry. And frankly, the more I do the electoral math, the harder it is to see how Kerry can win a close one without Florida, because he then needs to win almost every other state that's even remotely contested. Shortly after 8, in other words, is the first point at which Election Night could for all intents and purposes be over if the networks have clear enough winners to start calling a bunch of states (Bush can win if he loses both Florida and Ohio, but it's hugely improbable).
After that, brace for the long haul, as Wisconsin, Minnesota and New Mexico don't check in until 9pm, Iowa at 10, and Hawaii at 11pm, and of course some states (like Oregon) aren't likely to be declared for weeks.