Bellweather Early Races
(Don't forget, the predictions thread is below--get your picks in now!)
Sometime today I'll post a helpful checklist you can use to follow the House and Senate races, but before I get to that, there are a couple of races in the Northeast that should tell us early on what kind of night it will be.
NH-02 In New Hampshire, incumbent Republican Charlie Bass won by 20 pts. in 2004 but is in a neck-and-neck race with Paul Hodes. Bass' poll numbers are consistently under 50%. This is a race generally considered in the second tier of Democratic pickup opportunities, the kind we will count on to win back the House. If the challenger Hodes pulls off the win (he seems to have a slight lead in polls), it is a sign that almost certainly the House is going Democratic. If he doesn't, it may mean that pollsters have overestimated the Democrats' wave.
RI-Sen--The Rhode Island Senate race really frightens me. This and the Maryland race really could ruin the Democratic push to takeover the Senate, a task that will take many things going right. Whitehouse (D) has had a significant lead until the last week, when incumbent Chafee came on strong. I remember in the Republican primary there was hope that Chafee would be picked off by a more conservative foe. That guy, Steve Laffey, was claiming on election day that all his precinct numbers came through adn went just according to plan--he thought he was going to win. But Chafee beat him solidly. Apparently the Chafee machine can get out the vote when it needs to. He won't have to beat the polls by much to win this race and keep the Democrats from winning back the Senate. A Chafee loss doesn't assure Dems will win the Senate - far from it - but a Chafee win would stomp Democratic Senate hopes early in the night.
When I have a chance I'll post about important races to watch in the middle of the country, and then in the West.