What I'm looking for
Order of poll closings by state is here.
Phase One: Ohio closes at 7:30 eastern. If there is a relatively quick projection there, it could tell the story. It will be the first big thing to watch. Virginia is done at 7 eastern, and WV at 7:30. If either of them looks very close, especially VA, it could be a long night for W. Decent sized wins in all three for Bush would be a very bad sign, but not the end of the night, for Kerry.
Phase Two: Florida and Pennsylvania will be closed at 8 eastern (some parts of the state close earlier. Some results will come in quickly after that, although if lines are long, voting could go on for some time after that. Still, over the course of the hour it's reasonable to think we get projections in both. PA should go to Kerry and it shouldn't take all night to figure it out. FL may take longer. But if Kerry wins both, he's well on his way. Just PA and things are still ok. If FL is lost and PA drags out, or looks like Bush leads, Kerry is toast.
Phase Three: Arkansas closes at 8:30 eastern, and Colorado at 9. The longer they both go on uncalled for Bush, the better sign it is for Kerry. Also at 9 come big necessary states for Kerry: Minnesota, Wisconsin, and a quick NM win for either (closes at 9 eastern) bodes very well for the winner if it's Kerry. More and more necessary for Bush if he doesn't snag FL.
Phase Four: 10 Eastern, Iowa closes as does Nevada. I'm assuming these will split, but a sweep by either guy could wrap it up. If Bush doesn't win Nevada, things will not have gone well in CO or NM either. If Kerry doesn't win IA, he's ok if he took care of the big 3 (FL, MI, PA), but in some trouble otherwise.
Phase Five: Hawaii, Oregon, Washington, California close at 11 eastern. If Bush is still needing EVs from these states at this point, he's in serious trouble (unless he only needs 4 and what they say about Hawaii being close is actually true--I'll believe it when I see it). I believe by this time we'll know, and waiting on OR and CA will be a pleasant victory wait. Any close states left (WI, OH, FL) that matter will be called by now.
Phase Six: Hopefully this is just celebration and victory speeches. But if we're still waiting out an important state at this point, it will probably be close enough to require a recount, depending on state law. I suspect OH, MN, FL and maybe CO to be the most likely candidates for that horror. No news there. New Mexico will be close, but with only 5 votes, not as likely to matter by the time it shakes out. Just like 2000.
If any exit polls get released (leaked) during the day, and I hope they don't, I'll link to them here.
Final thought: Kerry is a good man. He fights with courage for things he believes in--for his country, against a mistaken war, against Nixon when he was at the height of his power, against Reagan when he was tremendously popular and Kerry was a first-term Senator. I can vote for him proudly. And will in just a few short hours.
No, really the final thought: Why do networks rush to call states anyway? Sure, we flip to the channel that calls states, but don't we linger on the channels that keep the drama of the story alive, so long as they don't look just out of touch with reality? I guess I know crap all about TV, but I'd rather watch results than projections and suspect most people would. Why do the networks not think so? Why do they want to be first in convincing us to turn the tube off because the story's over?