Election Night Survival Guide, Part II
In Part 1, I talked through the way I will be neurotically, nervously watching the returns on Tuesday at 7 pm Eastern when the first polls close in 6 states. A half-hour later, polls will close in Ohio, North Carolina and West Virginia. The key for this 30-minute stretch is to keep our eyes on the prize. These states don't necessarily matter. Follow me:
So, it's 7:30 and (I'm guessing) 3 states (VT, SC, KY) have been called giving McCain an electoral vote lead of 16-3. GA, IN and VA are still too close to call, and maybe Obama's behind in all three as the earliest votes are counted. Breathe. Remember, GA and IN are pile-on states. Indicators to be sure, but in no way necessary for Obama's electoral strategy. As West Virginia is called 10 minutes later, putting McCain up 21-3 and dashing hopes of a big upset there, we will not worry. This was all to be expected.
Ohio: I am not as optimistic about Ohio as others. But here's the thing: it's not that important. Winning OH (like winning FL) would just about assure an Obama win, but neither is necessary. I expect OH to be close and will not be called for the next hour at least. I'm going to try and just ignore it. In 2004, Ohio was everything for Kerry's chances. Not so this year. Barack's most fundamental route to 270 takes Kerry's result (including the losses in OH and FL and VA) and adds Iowa, Colorado and New Mexico.
Is Ohio important at least to insulate against a McCain upset in PA? I'd say no. If Obama wins OH, he will win PA, where he has consistently run 5 pts or so ahead of his Ohio numbers. It's hard to imagine him winning OH and losing PA. Every news anchor is going to go on and on about what a deciding state Ohio is. But this year, it is much less likely to be so.
No, if you want to watch Ohio closely, forget about President and pay attention to House races. In OH-15, Democrat Mary Jo Kilroy should pick up an empty seat, and in OH-2, Republican incumbent Jean Schmidt seems likely to hold on to her seat in this district Bush won by a huge margin, though it could be close. If either of those expectations are not met, it will be telling, about the Ohio vote generally, and Democratic House prospects. Also watch OH-01, where Steve Chabot (R) looks to be in one of his toughest re-election races. If this breaks strongly either way it will be an important indicator. Here's another reason to root hard in that one: Chabot was one of the 12 Clinton impeachment managers, one of only 3 who will still be in the House if he wins.
North Carolina: Obama doesn't need to win here, not at all. But it's been exciting to see the polls put him very close, or even ahead. The main thing here is for it to not be an early McCain call. If it is, that may not bode well for Obama in VA, and the map will tighten up, putting lots of pressure on PA and CO should VA not come through.
Shorter Version of 7:30 closing: Don't panic. These 3 states are not essential. WV should be an expected and substantial loss. OH and NC would virtually assure a win, but are not necessary, no matter what Wolf Blitzer tells you about how huge Ohio is. By the time the 30 minutes are up and we're ready for 8 pm closing, let's expect the count to still be 21-3. If GA, IN, OH, NC and VA are still too close to call, things are going according to plan, and if it looks like Obama is poised to win *any of them*, or any of them have been called in his favor, he will be well on his way to victory. The only bad news will be if he is losing them (especially VA where he looks to be well ahead in polls) decisively, as that would suggest the polls are off nation-wide.