<i>The American Prospect</i> 2008 Election Night Guide

This article has been corrected.

Keep this Prospect election night guide handy as you watch the results roll-in on Nov. 4. We let you know which counties are the swingiest within the swing states; which House, Senate, and gubernatorial races could be harbingers of hope or doom for the presidential candidates; the demographic groups pundits will be slicing and dicing in the days to come; and the ballot initiatives that are shaping contentious social policies at the state level. We'll also tell you the poll closing times for all the most crucial races, and provide links where you can see vote tallies in real time.

Tim Fernholz on Swing State Counties
Stuart Whatley on the Senate
Sam Boyd on the House
Dana Goldstein on Ballot Initiatives
Adam Serwer on Demographics
Carolyn Petri on Governors


Here are some key swing state counties whose voters will influence -- or perhaps predict -- the results of the 2008 presidential election. The demographics of these regions could offer some early insight into the final results of the election, but beware: Don't count the county until all the precincts are in.

Vigo County, Indiana: This county, which includes the city of Terre Haute, has correctly predicted the winner of the national election every year since 1960. It will be a test of Obama's appeal to white working class voters, as the area is overwhelmingly white and has a median income of $33,184. The polling trends in Indiana are tied up, with Obama taking the lead in most recent polls. If he wins the state, which leans Republican, he likely takes the election.

Polls close at: 6 p.m. EST

Hillsborough County, FL: Not quite as big as Miami but growing much faster, Tampa and its environs in the I-4 corridor's Hillsborough County could hold the key to deciding who walks away with Florida's electoral votes. Hispanic voters and white college graduates are flooding into this area and trending Democratic. Since 1988, the I-4 corridor as a whole has seen an 18 point swing toward Democrats, and now the county, which went for Bush in 2004, is polling Obama's way. If that trend continues through Election Day, Florida may well go blue.

Polls close at: 7 p.m. EST

Franklin County, OH: Home to the city of Columbus, Franklin County will allow us to test a number of obsessed-over trends: white voters' support for Obama, high levels of enthusiasm among minority voters, and the specter of 2004. This is the place where John Kerry saw his presidential dreams fall apart as both white working class and college-educated voters supported President Bush, while minority voters faced long lines and other high jinks at polling places. Since then, growth in Franklin County and its suburbs has created a demographic shift that trends Democratic. White voters here swung from George W. Bush to Congressional Democrats by 8 points between 2004 and 2006. Watch to see if minority turnout is high and whether enough white voters support Obama to put him over the top in this key state.

Polls close at: 7:30 p.m. EST

Bucks County, PA: This Philadelphia suburb will be an early test of Obama's cross-over appeal, home to a predominantly white-working class population but seeing growth of some minority groups, particularly Hispanics. Bucks favored the Democratic presidential candidate in the last four elections, so if McCain makes up serious ground here on Election Day, it could be a harbinger of Republican success to come. If Obama blows him out of the water, Pennsylvania is likely staying blue.

Polls close at: 8:00 p.m. EST

Butler, Beaver, Washington, and Westmoreland Counties, PA: These four counties make up the suburbs and exurbs of Pittsburgh (Allegheny County), and John McCain's campaign is convinced that Obama is underperforming among white working class voters here. The area also, not coincidentally, includes a good deal of Rep. John Murtha's congressional district, which the good congressman inartfully characterized as "racist" a few weeks ago. The McCain camp is staking their race on stealing away Pennsylvania's electoral votes with a surge in this area. Kerry didn't win the region, but the Democratic margin of loss shrunk in 2006. If McCain is right that voters like these are uncomfortable with Obama -- and haven't been telling pollsters -- then it could be a long night for Democrats.

Polls close at: 8 P.M. EST (Butler and Beaver; and Washington and Westmoreland)

Wake County, NC: The location of the "research triangle" and home of state capital Raleigh, Wake County is to North Carolina what Fairfax and Arlington are to Virginia -- fast-growing Great Blue Hopes. Obama has a clear lead in the area, which is one of the counties that Politico has been polling to get a sense of his progress in the state. The state is also home to contentious gubernatorial and senate races that look to be leaning Democratic, so big turn-out in Wake County could spell Democratic success for all the state's federal races.

Polls close at: 7:30 p.m. EST

--Tim Fernholz


It would be wildly optimistic for Democrats to hope for a filibuster-proof 60-person majority in the Senate. If they inch up toward that number, here are the races that will flip left.

Kentucky: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R) vs. former Kentucky gubernatorial candidate Bruce Lunsford (D)

McConnell's seat is a target for Democrats as part of their efforts to topple the GOP Congressional leadership. Committing at least $1 million in August alone, the DSCC stepped up its ad campaign in Kentucky with the message that McConnell is an out-of-touch Washington insider who doesn't care about average workers. Lunsford, enjoying favorable partisan winds following Republican Governor Ernie Fletcher's 2007 loss, has been increasingly competitive, closing much of the polling gap in the weeks leading up to Election Day.

Polls close at: 6 p.m. EST

Georgia: Senator Saxby Chambliss (R) vs. Former State Representative Jim Martin (D)

Chambliss, Georgia's freshman Senator who defeated Democrat Max Cleland in 2002, has enjoyed a four-to-one fundraising advantage and thus a hearty lead all year -- that is, until this fall, when the DSCC pumped half a million dollars into television ads for Martin that appeared 369 times in one week. The months of September and October have seen a remarkable narrowing in the polls as Martin has caught up to the incumbent. The flash-point has been the bailout. Martin criticized Chambliss' support of a rescue plan that does not provide sufficient safeguards for consumers, while Chambliss has accused Martin of being indecisive on the financial crisis.

Polls close at: 7 p.m. EST

New Hampshire: Senator John Sununu (R) vs. Former Governor Jeanne Shaheen (D)

"Critically Endangered" GOP incumbent Sununu faces former Governor Shaheen in a rematch of the scandal-ridden 2002 election, which he won by less than 10,000 votes. Like McConnell, Sununu is a prime target for the DSCC following the New Hampshire Republican Party's sabotage of Democratic get out the vote hotlines six years ago. Shaheen, who has persistently equated her opponent to President Bush, promises to reduce health care costs and points out that Sununu has not once introduced health care legislation after 12 years in Washington. Shaheen has maintained a strong lead in New Hampshire all year with her "New Direction" message and will go confidently into this heated rematch.

Polls close at: 8 p.m. EST

North Carolina: Senator Elizabeth Dole (R) vs. State Senator Kay Hagan (D)

First-term incumbent Dole is fighting for her life -- donating $3 million to her own campaign three weeks before the election -- to keep North Carolina's traditionally-Republican seat, held by Sen. Jesse Helms from 1972 to 2003. Dole has faced strong criticism for her "Washington celebrity" status and the fact that she lived in D.C. for 40 years prior to quickly buying her mother's house in North Carolina to gain residency for her 2002 Senate race. The challenger, Hagan, has also attacked Dole for her close connection to President Bush. In response, the GOP ran an ad in North Carolina that seemed to concede the presidential race in order to elevate the importance of having Republicans keep their Senate seats. We'll have to wait until Election Day to know if this split-government scare-tactic worked.

Polls close at: 7:30 p.m. EST

Minnesota: Senator Norm Coleman (R) vs. comedian and commentator Al Franken (DFL) vs. former Senator Dean Barkley (IP)

In one of the most expensive and contentious races of the year, political veteran Coleman has been given a run for his money by newcomer and Saturday Night Live veteran Franken, who has closed the polling gap and taken the lead in the weeks leading up to November 4. Though Franken suffered a set-back a few months ago over unpaid taxes and a one-time column he wrote for Playboy in 2000, he captured a lead when the economy became the single issue of importance for suffering Minnesotans. This race has become notorious for negative TV ads fueled by the highest fundraising numbers in the country (Coleman, over $18 million; Franken, over $16 million). Franken accused Coleman of being indecisive and wasteful with contracts in Iraq while Coleman painted Franken as "angry, profane and unfit for office." This mutual negativity has led to increased support for Independent third-party candidate Barkley, who polled around 17 percent in the weeks leading up to the election.

Polls close at: 8:00 CST

--Stuart Whatley


In 2006 Democrats picked up 30 formerly Republican seats in the House of Representatives. In 2008 Democrats are poised to equal if not surpass those gains, according to most election observers -- an almost unprecedented feat. Below we review some of the most interesting, competitive, and representative House races of 2008, focusing on districts where polls close early.

IN-3: Rep. Mark Souder (R) vs. Attorney Mike Montagano (D)

Souder, a conservative stalwart, is facing an unlikely challenge from the 27-year-old Montagano in a district that gave President Bush 68 percent of the vote in 2004. But the DCCC has been on the air in the district, one poll shows Montagano only a few points behind, and Souder's vote for the $700 billion bailout bill is hurting him with moderates and conservatives. If Montagano wins this race, or even comes close, it would be the night's earliest sign of likely Democratic gains in the House equal to or greater than those of 2006.

Polls close at: 6 p.m. EST

IN-9: Rep. Baron Hill (D) vs. former Rep. Mike Sodrel (R)

Sodrel and Hill are facing each other in this southern Indiana district for the fourth consecutive time. Hill, who was first elected to the seat in 1998, defeated Sodrel in 2002, lost to him in 2004, defeated him again in 2006, and, according to polls, will likely win again in 2008. A victory for Sodrel would indicate a less pro-Democratic and more anti-incumbent mood in the electorate than many have expected.

Polls close at: 6 p.m. - 7 p.m. EST depending on the county

VA-2: Rep. Thelma Drake (R) vs. Foreign Service Officer Glenn Nye (D)

Drake, first elected in 2004, narrowly survived a 2006 challenge from prominent local politician Phil Kellam. The district has one of the largest military presences of any in the nation and if Nye, who recently worked for USAID in Iraq, wins, it might signal that military voters are turning against pro-war conservatives like Drake.

Polls close at: 7 p.m. EST

VA-10: Rep. Frank Wolf (R) vs. public policy professor Judy Feder (D)

Two years ago Wolf, a 14-term incumbent and moderate Republican, handily defeated Feder, one of the nation's leading experts on health care policy. But Feder is better positioned in 2008, and in Congress she would become a leading figure in Democratic attempts to reform health care.

Polls close at: 7 p.m. EST

FL-21: Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart (R) vs. former Hileah Mayor Raul Martinez (D)

Diaz-Balart and his brother Mario, who represents the neighboring 25th district, are both facing tough challenges. The brothers are strong advocates of a hard-line policy against Cuba and a loss for either of them would suggest that the Cuban community is no longer as monolithically conservative or as single-mindedly focused on Castro as it once was.

Polls close at: 7 p.m. EST

OH-1: Rep. Steve Chabot (R) vs. State Rep. Steve Driehaus (D)

This race, in a district that gave President Bush 50 percent of the vote in 2004, is probably the closest in Ohio. Chabot has defeated numerous serious challengers since he was first elected in 1994, but Obama's coat tails may be enough to put Driehaus over the top. In particular, turnout among African Americans, who make up 27 percent of the district, will be critical and will signal how well Democratic challengers in seats with significant black populations will do later in the night.

Polls close at: 7:30 p.m. EST

NJ-7: State Rep. Linda Stender (D) vs. State Sen. Leonard Lance (R) (Open Seat)

This race, one of the hardest-fought in the nation, has been marked by tough attacks and an argument over whether Lance is actually pro-choice, as he claims to be. If Stender wins, it will prove that choice has become a potent political weapon for Democrats.

Polls close at: 8 p.m. EST

PA-12: Rep. John Murtha (D) vs. Lieut. Col. William Russell (R)

This was thought to be a safe seat until Murtha told reporters that western Pennsylvania, where his district is located, is "a racist area." Murtha has been a courageous and outspoken opponent of the Iraq war, but he is also generally seen as one of the most corrupt Democrats in Congress. His loss would strengthen reformers and the Democrats' image on ethics.

Polls close at: 8 p.m. EST

--Sam Boyd


In 2006, progressives passed minimum wage hikes at the ballot in states across the country. There is no similar, coordinated progressive push on state ballots this year, which has left the left playing defense on a host of familiar social issues.

Click here for ballot initiative results.

Gay marriage

1. The highest profile initiative is Proposition 8 in California, which would overturn the state Supreme Court's recent decision in favor of marriage equality. (Polls close at 8 p.m. PST)

2. Arizona became the first state in the nation to reject an anti-gay marriage amendment in 2006, but they're likely to pass the measure this year, now that it has been stripped of language that also denied domestic partnership benefits to hetero couples. (Polls close at 7 p.m. MST)

3. The constitutional ban on the ballot in Florida would outlaw marriage for gay couples and domestic partnership for all couples. A Mason-Dixon poll found 55 percent of Floridians favor the ban, but 60 percent are needed for it to become law. (Polls close at 7 p.m. EST)


1. The strictest ban on the ballot is the so-called “personhood” amendment in Colorado, which would define all fertilized eggs as full human beings with constitutional rights. Even Christian right activists disagree about the tactic. (Polls close at 7 p.m. MST)

2. The other state to watch is South Dakota. Two years ago, voters rejected a total abortion ban that did not include an exception for the health or life of the pregnant woman. Now that exceptions have been written into the measure, a recent poll showed the fight too close to call, with 44 percent of South Dakotans in favor of the ban, 44 percent opposed, and 12 percent undecided. (Polls close at 7 p.m. CST)

Affirmative Action

Anti-affirmative action activist Ward Connerly has placed his so-called “civil rights initiatives” on the ballot in two states: Colorado (polls close at 7 p.m. MST) and Nebraska (polls close at 8 p.m. CST).

Progressive ballot initiatives

1. In California, voters can choose to fund a high-speed rail line between San Francisco and Los Angeles and limit animal cruelty in the agriculture system. (Polls close at 8 p.m. PST)

2. In Missouri, voters will consider an initiative to require the state to produce 15 percent of its electricity from clean energy by 2021. (Polls close at 7 p.m. CST)

3. In Michigan, a ballot initiative asks voters to overturn the state's ban on stem cell research. (Polls close at 8 p.m. EST)

--Dana Goldstein


Click here for exit poll results.

Married and Unmarried Women Voters: Despite the fact that Obama seems to have an advantage over McCain in female support overall according to Gallup (54 to 39 percent), Obama still struggles among married and working class white women, who supported Bush in 2004, but trended Democratic in the 2006 midterms. Obama retains the usual deficit facing Democratic candidates among whites, and in particular white men, so he will need to keep the margin of female support high in order to win.

Latino Voters: President Bush owes his 2004 victory to impressive support among Latinos. He surged from 35 to 44 percent of the Latino vote between 2000 and 2004. But after the Republicans' handling of the McCain-Kennedy immigration bill, Latino support for the GOP cratered. Polling suggests Obama will draw close to two- thirds of the Latino vote this year. He'll need it, especially in the Southwest, where he hopes to pick up Nevada and New Mexico.

College Educated Voters: In 2004 Bush carried college educated voters 52 to 46 percent. He lost among those with advanced degrees. The college educated made up more than a quarter of the electorate in 2004, but this year they're trending Obama. He has a small lead over McCain in this category, 49 to 46 percent according to Gallup.

Black voters: Obama is expected to win at least 90 percent of the black vote, and this isn't all that unusual for Democrats, despite what Pat Buchanan might have you believe. Kerry carried 88 percent of the black vote in 2004, and Gore took 90 percent in 2000. What is unusual is the expected turnout of African Americans in states like North Carolina and Georgia, where black voters might just give Obama hope of carrying some Southern states. If he does, it'll be some of the biggest news of this election.

--Adam Serwer


State budgets are in crisis as Republicans everywhere run, run, run from the record of their president. Here are some of the gubernatorial races that could signal changing headwinds in state politics.

Vermont: Gov. Jim Douglas (R) vs. State House Speaker Gaye Symington (D) v. Anthony Pollina (Ind.)

Vermonters know Jim Douglas. He's been governor since 2002 and a legacy helps in Vermont, where voters haven't unseated the gubernatorial incumbent in almost half a century. Polls show almost half of Vermonters favor Douglas, while Symington and Pollina split the difference. Symington and Douglas have gone back and forth on some very Vermont issues, including reform of sex and drug offender laws. If Douglas doesn't get a simple majority, the Democratic state legislature will choose the winner. With many voters still undecided, whether Douglas gets to 50+1 is still in question.

Polls close at: 7 p.m. EST

Missouri: State Attorney General Jay Nixon (D) v. Rep. Kenny Hulshof (R)

Polls show Nixon ahead of Hulshof in this race, where the lines have been drawn over taxes and experience. Hulshof's decade in Washington and his alignment with the national GOP disadvantage him; Nixon paints his opponent as a perpetrator of the economic crisis. The candidates also spar on tax policy. With Republican Governor Matt Blunt retiring, this open-seat race is one of the most likely to go Democratic, even though Missouri has supported the GOP in recent years.

Polls close at: 7 p.m. CST

North Carolina: Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory (R) v. Lt. Gov. Bev Perdue (D)

McCrory, the popular seven-term Charlotte mayor, is running as an outsider to "Status Quo Bev," the name his ads give Perdue. Polls show them in a tight race to succeed term-limited Democratic Governor Easely. The governor's seat has been Democratic since 1992, but the state trends Republican for presidential races (which could change this year). The candidates fall on opposite sides of education policy; Perdue -- pegged as elitist by McCrory -- supports college tuition wavers, while McCrory has staked his flag to a proposal for better vocational programs.

Polls close at: 7:30 p.m. EST

Washington: Governor Christine Gregoire (D) v. Former State Sen. Dino Rossi (R)

Four years ago, Gregoire beat Rossi by merely 129 votes, and now they're back for a rematch. Washington hasn't elected a Republican governor since 1980, and Rossi's using this to her advantage, running as a change candidate. Likewise, Gregoire's proposal for statewide universal health care by 2012 may resonate with voters more than Rossi's plans to let free-market forces lower health care costs for increased access.

Polls close at: 8 p.m. PST

--Carolyn Petri

Correction: This article originally stated that polls in North Carolina remain open until 8:30. In fact, they close at 7:30 though some may remain open for another hour. Also, 60 votes in the Senate is a filibuster-proof majority, not a veto-proof one as we originally said.

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