Do you want to be the first one at your election night party to declare the winner of the presidential race? Would you like to see a look of awe and admiration on the faces of your friends as you confidently tick off the reasons why Obama just won or why McCain is still in it?
Or perhaps you’d prefer to stuff yourself with burritos and swig tequila all night while keeping your opinions to yourself, secretly aware that the amateurish attempts by your friends to pontificate on what is happening can’t touch your vast and superior knowledge of the electoral landscape.
Either way, you can’t go wrong with this Official Pajamas Media Election Guide For Dummies.
First, we should lay out a couple of the more likely scenarios that will take place tonight so that you can dazzle your partymates with some brilliant reportage.
A rule of thumb in these scenarios is the candidate who needs a lot of “ifs” and “buts” in their scenario is probably toast. So when I say “If McCain can win OH, FL, and PA but lose VA and CO, he can win the presidency,” you know that the Republican is in a world of hurt.
Conversely, if I were to say “Obama only needs to hold on to the states he’s leading in the polls now to win in a landslide,” you realize to your horror that the odds are very good that we will probably elect a president who is on a first name basis with 1) an unrepentant terrorist 2) a conspiracy mongering, bigoted preacher and 3) an incredibly corrupt Chicago political fixer convicted of fraud.
That’s what I call “hope and change” as in “I sure hope something changes before election night is over.”
Realistically, Mr. McCain is extremely limited in the ways he can finagle his way to 270 electoral votes. That is the magic number for the candidates, and for the Republican, the map as it stands now is quite grim.
Even if you discount the accuracy of the polls, a 15-point Obama lead has to be considered solid in states like California, Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan, Massachusetts, New York, and a dozen and a half other states that add up to 260 rock solid electoral votes for the Democrat. The remaining battleground states are — with the exception of Pennsylvania and perhaps New Hampshire — all states that George Bush carried in 2004 (some of them quite handily).
The keys to prescient prognostication tonight will be found in the results of a handful of red states. They are: Colorado, Virginia, Missouri, Nevada, North Carolina, Montana, Indiana, Ohio, Florida, and the blue state of Pennsylvania.
Scenario #1: “The dog ate my base vote” scenario.
This is where a dispirited Republican base of evangelicals and social conservatives sits glumly at home munching on Cheetos while Obama takes every state listed above. This is the blowout scenario and is not very likely.
Odds: 1 in 25
Scenario #2: The “Dewey Wins” scenario
This particular scenario is a favorite of Republican Kool-Aid drinkers and people who are paid to fantasize. We discover to our surprise that the polls are actually full of it and McCain wins every state listed above. Result, a narrow win for the Republican.
Odds: 1 in 50
(The following 3 scenarios assume McCain wins Ohio and Florida)
Scenario #3: The “Nothing could be finah than to be in Carolina” scenario
If John McCain can hold on to North Carolina, Indiana, Missouri, Colorado, Montana, and Nevada while losing Virginia and Indiana he can still win by carrying Pennsylvania.
Odds: 1 in 20
Scenario #4: The “Rocky Mountain High” scenario
If Obama loses all of the above red states except Colorado and Virginia while taking Pennsylvania, he wins.
Odds: 1 in 8
Scenario #5: The “Here we go again” scenario
Obama wins North Carolina and Nevada while losing Pennsylvania. McCain wins the rest of the red states in play. Ohio is too close to call which leaves the election in limbo.
Scenario #6: The “Moon over Miami” scenario
McCain takes every red state in play except Florida while winning Pennsylvania. He would also need a
surprise win in either Iowa or New Hampshire.
Scenario #7: The “Whole Shebang” scenario.
If Obama takes any combination of 3 of the 10 states in play, he wins.
Odds: 1 in 5
There are about a dozen more scenarios involving Obama and those ten states where he realizes 270 electoral votes but, realistically, it basically comes down to three states for McCain: Ohio, Florida, and Pennsylvania. He can win by losing any one of those states — with great difficulty but he could still eke out a victory. More to the point, he needs all three since it would be an extraordinary turn of events for McCain to win every red state in play…
According to the polls.
Now, here’s how to anticipate what will happen:
Here are some poll closings in the battleground states (all times eastern):
7 p.m.: Indiana, Virginia
7:30 p.m.: Ohio, North Carolina
8 p.m.: Pennsylvania, Florida, Missouri
It would be surprising if any network called one of those states right when the polls closed. If that happens, one of two things are likely: 1) if called for Obama, it will probably be a very short evening and an Obama blowout or 2) if called for McCain that early, get set for the election night ride of your life because Johnny Mac just might pull off the election surprise of the ages.
But few expect such quick calls (there is a portion of Indiana in a different time zone where the polls won’t close for another hour). But we can still glean some vital information from the early results.
I would suggest you tune to Fox News coverage if for no other reason than to watch the master of election night analysis, Michael Barone. Simply put, Barone has forgotten more political minutia than the entire teams at CNN and MSNBC have written down in front of them. He will give some county totals in these vital states — one or the other candidate is running ahead or behind when it comes to the history of the area. Within a half an hour we will probably be able to assess John McCain’s chances in states like Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Virginia.
Also, although the popular vote margin is irrelevant in the sense that it doesn’t count, the gap between Obama and McCain could be significant. If it is more than 3 or 4 points, it will probably be curtains for the Republican. And an early call in Virginia for Obama probably means McCain has an uphill battle for a win. It would indicate that the polls, while not perfect, are probably within their margin of error and therefore a mostly true indication of how the evening will go.
The longer the evening wears on without a victor, the better for McCain. But even if Obama hasn’t reached 270, if he has been declared the winner in one of the big three — Ohio, Florida, or Pennsylvania — it would take a whole slew of surprises in other states for McCain to pull it out. Hence, while not technically the victor, Obama could have wrapped up the race fairly early by knocking McCain out of the box in one of the three states he absolutely has to have for a realistic shot.
Interested in the question of a “Bradley effect” where voters tell pollsters they will vote for an African American and then end up voting for his white opponent? Watch New Hampshire. The Granite state surprised Obama in the primaries when Hillary Clinton, down 7 points the last weekend before the primary, came back to win by 3. If there is anything to the theory, it will be born out in the almost all white state of New Hampshire.
Finally, there is a small chance that there will be 3, 4, even 5 states too close to call and where both parties will sic their lawyers on the justice system. Some states may even see a move at midday to extend voting hours, count provisional ballots, disqualify voters, and otherwise throw a monkey wrench into the proceedings. It is unknown what effect, if any, this might have on voters around the country. If one side or the other is seen as cheating or trying to game the system, it might sway some of the undecideds and put them in one camp or another. Enough to make a difference somewhere? Who knows.
So there you have our handy, dandy guide to watching tonight’s proceedings. If you’re like me, you will probably have a tall, cool glass of hemlock in the fridge ready to imbibe the moment your candidate gives up the ghost. After two years of back and forth, up and down, attack and parry, smear and slime, it’s a wonder anyone has the stomach for voting at all.