Early-closing states key to watching results Indiana should give first clue

November 03, 1992|By Jack W. Germond | Jack W. Germond,STAFF GRAPHICSWashington Bureau

WASHINGTON -- Here's how to follow the election returns tonight -- assuming the television networks don't come on the air only to have the pundits and poll-takers declare in the next breath that it's all over:

The first indicator will be reliably Republican Indiana, where polls close at 6 p.m. (All times are Eastern Standard Time.) If President Bush loses it or wins narrowly -- let's say, with less than 55 percent -- he is probably in trouble in the entire industrial Midwest and thus in serious jeopardy nationally. A Bush win is ho-hum.

Kentucky also closes its polls at 6 p.m. but is less reliable as an indicator so long as the contest there is reasonably close.

Six states -- Florida, Georgia, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Vermont and Virginia -- close their polls at 7 p.m. To be a serious player, Mr. Bush should win all but Vermont, although he also could afford to lose New Hampshire. If Democrat Bill Clinton wins Florida and Georgia, he has clearly broken the Republican "electoral college lock" and is headed for a comfortable victory nationally. If Mr. Bush holds these states, the election may be more competitive than pre-election polls suggest.

If Mr. Bush loses Florida's 25 electoral votes, he probably cannot reach 270. It's time to switch to an old movie.

A half-hour later, polls close in North Carolina and Ohio, both states Mr. Bush must have to reach the required 270, and West Virginia, an equally integral part of Mr. Clinton's base. Any variation from that pattern says something is up -- or down. Like Florida, Ohio is a "must-win" state for the Republicans.

The polls close at 8 p.m. in 17 states and the District of Columbia, and returns from these states could settle the election.

Mr. Bush must have Texas (32 electoral votes), Michigan (18) and New Jersey (15) to be competitive nationally. If Mr. Clinton were to lose Pennsylvania (23) or Illinois (22), a stunning upset is in the making.

Maryland, one of the states that shuts down at 8 p.m., has been leaning heavily toward Mr. Clinton in pre-election surveys. Should Mr. Bush win here, the smart money will be confounded.

If the contest remains open for long after the 9 p.m. closings in 11 more states, including New York (33), Wisconsin (11) and Minnesota (10), the results will be a direct refutation of the latest state-by-state polls. If those surveys have been accurate, Mr. Clinton should go over the top before 10 p.m.

If the Democratic nominee doesn't have the election locked up by that time, the focus shifts to California (54), where even the Bush managers concede they are out of the picture.

But if the contest lasts that long, it already will be clear this has been a very different year indeed. Shoot the poll-takers, hang the pundits.

VIEWER SCORECARD

Election returns from a number of states will provide important clues to who will win the presidential race. Those states include:

STATE .. .. .. .. KEY INDICATOR FOR .. .. WON BY BUSH .. .. WON BY CLINTON

FLORIDA ... .. .. GOP . .. .. .. .. .. .. * ... .. .. .. .. *

ILLINOIS .. .. .. DEMOCRATS . .. .. .. .. * ... .. .. .. .. *

MARYLAND .. .. .. DEMOCRATS . .. .. .. .. * ... .. .. .. .. *

NEW JERSEY ... .. GOP . .. .. .. .. .. .. * ... .. .. .. .. *

OHIO ... .. .. .. GOP . .. .. .. .. .. .. * ... .. .. .. .. *

PENNSYLVANIA . .. DEMOCRATS . .. .. .. .. * ... .. .. .. .. *

TEXAS .. .. .. .. GOP . .. .. .. .. .. .. * ... .. .. .. .. *

WEST VIRGINIA ... DEMOCRATS . .. .. .. .. * ... .. .. .. .. *

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