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Here are some tips on what to watch for and when on election night. Nate Silver shows Obama leading in state polls for states adding to 303 electoral votes. He figures on the Democrats being most likely to keep their current count of 53 Senate seats. This chart will help you track progress towards those milestones.

nate silver electin map

We could know as early as 4:00 Pacific Time how the presidential race is going to go, and we may have a pretty good idea of the Senate majority by 5:00. Of course, we need to keep up Get Out The Vote efforts until all polls close.

If a state listed below as "almost certain" goes the other way, or if a couple "probably" states do, that could indicate a significant shift not anticipated by the polls. Any of these going in favor of Obama means he wins. Any such shift for Romney means the electoral college could end up being close. A big state shifting to Romney could give him the election.

For those mathematically inclined, start by giving Obama 303 electoral votes and make the additions and subtractions noted below. 270 will be required to win. Also start with a pessimistic 50 Senate seats for the Democrats.

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All times are Pacific Time.

4:00

  • President
    Virginia Likely to be very close, and crucial to Romney If Obama wins Virginia, it is a very good sign If Romney wins big, it is a bad sign If Romney wins by a little, it just keeps him alive for a few hours If Romney wins, take away 13 electoral votes from Obama
  • Senate
    Virginia Kaine (D) should keep this seat Democratic If Allen (R) pulls off an upset, take one seat from the Democrats Indiana (most of state closes polls at 3:00, so there could be early exit polls) Very close with a likely Democratic gain, even though Romney will win here If Mourdock (R) pulls off an upset, take one seat from the Democrats

4:30

  • President
    Ohio Obama will probably win this It is very hard for Romney to get enough electoral votes without Ohio If Romney wins or is close, it could be a bad sign If Romney wins, take away 18 electoral votes from Obama and worry that another 10-30 from small states will also fall to Romney North Carolina Romney will almost certainly win this If Obama wins, add 15 electoral votes for Obama
  • Senate West Virginia While Romney should win, Manchin (D) should keep this seat Democratic If Raese (R) pulls off an upset, take one seat from the Democrats

5:00

  • President If the media have called 137 electoral votes for Obama at any point during the next hour, Obama has won (based on adding New York, Michigan, Minnesota, California, Oregon, Washington, and Hawaii later).
  • Senate If your count of Democratic seats is at least 51 at any time after this, then the Democrats will hold a majority of the Senate. (This assumes any potential "take aways" above have been factored in. If any of Virginia, West Virginia, or Indiana senate races are still undecided, extra seats may be needed to cover those.) If the Democrats are one seat short but are winning the presidency, we'll hold the Senate by virtue of Biden breaking tie votes.
  • Florida (most of state closes polls at 4:00, so there could be early exit polls) Absolute must-win for Romney Long leaning to Obama, now slightly leaning to Romney If Obama wins Florida, he almost certainly wins the election If Romney wins Florida, it does not say much because he needs so much more If Obama wins, add 29 electoral votes for Obama New Hampshire Obama probably wins this If Romney wins, take away 4 electoral votes from Obama and get nervous about Iowa, Nevada, and Colorado (another 21 electoral votes)
  • Pennsylvania Obama will almost certainly win this It has been a long time since this was even considered to be in play If Romney wins this, he has probably won the election If Romney wins, take away 20 electoral votes from Obama and worry that another 50-70 from smaller states will also fall to Romney (including those you were already worrying about if Romney won Ohio)
    • Maine King (Ind) will almost certainly win here It is assumed he'll caucus with Democrats
    • Massachusetts Warren (D) will take this seat back from Republicans When she wins, add one seat for the Democrats
    • Missouri
      It will be fun to watch McCaskill (D) declare victory here, softening the loss of the state to Romney When she wins, add one seat for the Democrats

    6:00

    • President If the media have called 192 electoral votes for Obama at any point during the next two hours, Obama has won (based on adding California, Oregon, Washington, and Hawaii later).
    • Senate
      Arizona Probably a Republican hold If Carmona (D) pulls off an upset, add one seat for the Democrats Nebraska Democrats will lose a seat here. Don't panic. It is expected. Wisconsin Baldwin (D) should keep this seat Democratic When she wins, add one seat for the Democrats
    • Colorado This one could be close and could be a bellwether of the election If Romney wins, take away 9 electoral votes from Obama
    • Wisconsin Obama will almost certainly win this If Romney wins, take away 10 electoral votes from Obama
    • Michigan (most of state closes polls at 5:00) Obama will almost certainly win the state where Romney grew up If Romney wins, take away 16 electoral votes from Obama

    7:00

    • President
      If the media have called 192 electoral votes for Obama at any point during the next hour, Obama has won (based on adding California, Oregon, Washington, and Hawaii later).
    • Senate
      Montana Democrats may lose a seat here A loss is already factored into the calculations If Tester (D) wins, add one seat for the Democrats Nevada Could be close A win by Heller (R) is factored in If Berkeley (D) wins, add one seat for the Democrats
    • Iowa
      Obama probably wins this If Romney wins, take away 6 electoral votes from Obama
    • Nevada Obama almost certainly wins this If Romney wins, take away 6 electoral votes from Obama

    8:00

    • President
      California The media are not likely to project a winner until California closes In the best scenario (including an upset in NC), Obama will have just 269 electoral votes called by the media before 8:00, one less than needed for victory Based on what is above, you'll have a good idea of the result much earlier
    • Senate
      North Dakota (much of state closes polls at 7:00, so there could be early exit polls) Democrats will lose a seat here. Don't panic. It is expected.

    Richard Matthews

    Posted: Sunday, 4 November 2012