For political junkies, Election Night is the most fun night of the year — at least until it becomes clear that your side is getting clobbered. Here is an Election Night 2014 Guide to the order in which the returns are likely to come in, based on states’ poll closing times, focusing on the states with seriously contested Senate and governor races. Note that the television networks don’t make projections and most state election websites don’t post state or county returns until all the polls have closed in that state. Ten states with two time zones and New Hampshire, where city and town polls close at different times, will be listed here at the time the last polls close. All times are Eastern.
Election Night 2014 Guide
7:00 PM Poll Closings
GEORGIA. Democrat Senate nominee Michelle Nunn will carry black-majority counties in metro Atlanta (Fulton and DeKalb) and south Georgia, while Republican David Perdue will win most others, but the margins matter. Caution: Georgia has 159 counties. If neither candidate gets 50 percent, there will be a runoff Jan. 6, three days after the new Congress convenes. Democrats hope a Nunn victory will offset losses elsewhere and make it harder for Republicans to make the net gain of six seats they need for a Senate majority. Georgia also has a close gubernatorial race between incumbent Republican Nathan Deal and Jimmy Carter’s grandson, Jason Carter.
KENTUCKY. Democrats hope to beat Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in Kentucky, but McConnell has been running ahead in almost every poll. He will likely lose the two largest counties (Jefferson and Fayette) but win most of the 118 others. Big margins in the coal counties in eastern Kentucky, once a Democratic bastion, could signal a McConnell win.
VIRGINIA. Democratic Sen. Mark Warner has stayed comfortably ahead in polls. A close race could indicate trouble for Democrats elsewhere.
7:30 PM Poll Closings
WEST VIRGINIA. Two big Senate races in these early-closing states. Republican Shelley Moore Capito should easily win the West Virginia seat her party last won in 1956.
NORTH CAROLINA, in contrast, is very closely contested. Democratic incumbent Kay Hagan has held onto a narrowing lead in polls, largely by attacking the state legislative record of Republican Thom Tillis. But Hagan’s numbers average under 45 percent, a danger point for an incumbent.
8:00 PM Poll Closings
This is the hour for very seriously contested governor races. Start with the very tight contests in CONNECTICUT and FLORIDA, where Democrat Dannel Malloy is threatened and Republican Rick Scott is fending off now Charlie Crist. A solid win for either one would be good news for his party. In President Obama’s ILLINOIS, incumbent Gov. Pat Quinn is in a close race with Republican investor Bruce Rauner. Will late votes from Chicago tilt it to Quinn, as they did in 2010? In MASSACHUSETTS, Democrat Martha Coakley, who lost that January 2010 special Senate election to Scott Brown, has been running slightly behind Republican Charlie Baker. In PENNSYLVANIA, Republican Tom Corbett seems sure to lose, breaking a string of eight-year alternative holds on the governorship going back to 1946. RHODE ISLAND features a race between a Democrat, Gina Raimondo, opposed by public employee union, and a Republican, Allan Fung, backed by them.
NEW HAMPSHIRE may also have a close governor race, but most eyes will be on the Senate race. Democratic incumbent Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, a former governor, has a narrow lead in polls. A victory for Republican Scott Brown, who won a Massachusetts seat in the January 2010 special election and lost it to Elizabeth Warren in 2012, could signal a big Republican wave.
8:30 PM Poll Closings
ARKANSAS. Freshman Rep. Tom Cotton has been leading Democratic incumbent Sen. Mark Pryor, and Republicans hope this one will be called early for Cotton. A sweep for Cotton and governor candidate Asa Hutchinson would signal a pretty solid Republican South.
9:00 PM Poll Closings
COLORADO. Democrat Mark Udall was considered a shoo-in for re-election a year ago, but Rep. Cory Gardner has been leading in most fall polls. Udall has been running “war on women” ads, but polls show Gardner winning men and Udall not much ahead among women. Hispanics provided all of President Obama’s margin here in 2012, but they may not go heavily for Udall. A tight governor race between incumbent Democrat John Hickenlooper and Republican Bob Beauprez could be a cliffhanger.
Only a sliver of KANSAS has polls open to 9:00, so the first rush of returns and exit polling may signal results. But quite possibly not. Polling has been close in both the Senate race, between incumbent Republican Sen. Pat Roberts and Independent (and former Democratic contributor) self-financer Greg Orman, and in the governor race, where conservative incumbent Sam Brownback is beleaguered and some moderate or former Republicans back Democrat Paul Davis.
LOUISIANA’s unique ballot allows multiple party candidates, and if no one gets 50 percent, the race goes to a runoff. Polls show Republican Rep. Bill Cassidy ahead of three-term Democrat Mary Landrieu in a runoff, but he’ll probably trail on Election Night because another Republican, Rob Maness, is running. Landrieu has never won more than 52 percent, and running well below 50 percent would be a bad sign for her.
Three Upper Peninsula counties have polls open to 9:00 p.m., so there may well be projections in MICHIGAN when the clock chimes. Republican Gov. Rick Snyder looks to be in good shape for re-election, and Democrat Gary Peters looks in even better shape to hold the open Democratic Senate seat in a state Obama carried twice.
Polls close in the West River counties of SOUTH DAKOTA at 9:00, at which time Republican Mike Rounds will likely be projected the winner of a seat held by Democrat Tim Johnson for 18 years.
Perhaps the hottest and most impassioned governor race of 2014 is in WISCONSIN, between Republican incumbent Governor Scott Walker, who won with 52 percent in 2010 and with 53 percent in a June 2012 recall election, and Democrat Mary Burke. Public employee unions vehemently opposed Walker’s legislation limiting their bargaining powers. Most polls show a close race, but the final Marquette University poll showed Walker opening up a lead. If that’s right, he may be projected the winner early. If not, this race could go on all night — and maybe later.
MINNESOTA. Six years ago, Democrat Al Franken was not declared winner of this Senate seat until after an eight-month legal battle; he’s expected to win quicker this time, as is Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton. But watch the margins and whether Republicans pick up the northern Minnesota 7th and 8th Congressional Districts.
10:00 PM Poll Closings
IOWA. Democrats expected to hold onto retiring Sen. Tom Harkin’s seat, but Joni “I grew up on a farm castrating hogs” Ernst has been leading trial lawyer Rep. Bruce Braley narrowly in polls, and Republicans have been stronger in early voting than in the past. Lots of would-be presidential candidates have been spotted in the state’s 99 counties.
Republicans haven’t won this MONTANA Senate seat since 1906, when state legislatures elected U.S. senators. They will this year, with Steve Daines called the winner at the top of the hour.
11:00 PM Poll Closings
HAWAII. Republicans hope Charles Djou will win the 1st district House seat, where Obama was born. Djou won a special election in Mat 2010 but lost that November. Polls show a close race in a 70 percent Obama district.
1:00 AM Poll Closings
ALASKA. There are dueling polls in Alaska, but Republican Dan Sullivan is favored to beat Democrat Mark Begich, a 1-percent winner in 2008. You may not want to stay up for this one: The last two Senate races in Alaska were not decided for days after Election Day.
Optimistic Senate scenario for Republicans: Hold Georgia and Kentucky at 7:00, pick up West Virginia and North Carolina at 7:30, New Hampshire at 8:00 and Arkansas at 8:30. That would put Republicans at +4, with sure wins coming up in South Dakota at 9:00 and Montana at 10:00. If at 9:00, they can hold Kansas and hold Landrieu well under 50 percent in Louisiana, they would be at +6, with good chances in three more states where they’ve been leading in polls, Colorado (9:00), Iowa (10:00) and Alaska (1:00).
Optimistic Senate scenario for Democrats: McConnell goes down in Kentucky and Nunn at least holds Perdue under 50 percent in Georgia at 7:00. Hagan outperforms her poll numbers at 7:30 and Shaheen does so in New Hampshire at 8:00. Democrats know they will lose West Virginia (7:30), South Dakota (9:00) and Montana (10:00), but hope they will be offset by Orman (although he has been unclear on which party he’d vote to organize the Senate with) in Kansas at 9:00. At that point they could afford a loss in Arkansas (8:30) and a poor showing by Landrieu in Lousiana (9:00) if Udall holds on in Colorado (9:00), Braley prevails in Iowa (10:00) and Begich wins in Alaska (1:00). At that point, Republicans would have a net gain of three seats, with the outcomes in Louisiana and Georgia depending on runoffs. Democrats would send in vast sums to gin up turnout in these states, which have the nation’s second and third highest black percentages, and hope that Orman votes to organize the Senate with them.