10 Things To Watch For Today

Handful Of Key States Could Indicate Winner

Election 2008

November 04, 2008|By Paul West | Paul West,paul.west@baltsun.com

WASHINGTON - Americans are making history today. They'll choose the country's first black president or they'll elect its oldest new chief executive, with the first female vice president.

More than 130 million voters, a record number, are expected to cast ballots across the country. If it is a runaway for Barack Obama or John McCain, a winner could emerge as early as 9 or 10 tonight.

Even if the popular vote count is relatively close, an Electoral College landslide could develop if most swing states tip the same way.

But it will be after 11 p.m. Eastern time - when polls close on the West Coast - before the president-elect can claim victory in the longest, most expensive, and many would say the most exciting, presidential contest ever.

Campaign insiders will be watching a handful of early states. Because a presidential election is actually a series of elections in the 50 states and the District of Columbia, what happens in the East and Midwest could determine or at least foreshadow the outcome.

Here are 10 things to watch for (all times Eastern):

1. Indiana: : Polls close at 7 p.m. For decades, this reliably Republican state has been the first to report its results and the last to produce a surprise. Democrats have won it once since the 1930s in a presidential election and that was 44 years ago, when President Lyndon B. Johnson won re-election by a landslide.

Obama has put the state in play through a major campaign effort, forcing McCain to make a last-minute campaign stop at the Indianapolis airport yesterday. If McCain does not put this state away early, it could be a long night for the Republican.

2. Virginia: : Polls close at 7 p.m. in the surprise battleground of 2008. No Democratic presidential nominee has won the state since 1964, but it has been trending away from the Republicans as Democratic-leaning suburbanites flood into booming areas outside Washington. Virginia elected the nation's first black governor, Douglas Wilder, in 1989, and could make history again if it tips to Obama.

This is a must-win for McCain, who cannot afford to lose any of the larger states that Bush carried last time.

3. Georgia: : Polls close at 7 p.m. Only Southern Democrats have succeeded in presidential elections here since the 1960s, and Obama had been shifting resources from Georgia to neighboring Florida. Sensing opportunity, he aired new television ads last weekend and is now within striking distance, according to statewide polls. Blacks have turned out in large numbers in early balloting and could cast close to one-third of the overall vote. But unless white Republicans in the suburbs and rural areas stay home today, McCain should win.

A McCain loss would signal that a Democratic landslide is under way and that the Deep South is solidly Republican no longer.

4. Ohio: : Polls close at 7:30 p.m. No Republican has won the White House without carrying Ohio. When President Bush took the state's 20 electoral votes - by about 2 percentage points - it proved decisive in 2004.

An Obama victory in Ohio would all but seal McCain's fate, and the Democrat does not need to carry the state to win the presidency.

Ohio has also been the scene of pre-election jousting over voting issues, such as the use of provisional ballots, which could delay a final verdict if the tally is close.

5. West Virginia: : Polls close at 7:30 p.m. It's the economy versus cultural conservatism - guns, abortion and other social issues - in a state that once was reliably Democratic but has trended Republican under Bush. Obama got clobbered by Hillary Clinton in the primary, one of his worst performances in the country, but polls last months showed him closing to within single digits of McCain.

McCain should win, but if he struggles here it would be a danger sign. An Obama victory could signal a Democratic blowout.

6. Pennsylvania: : Polls close at 8 p.m. McCain is betting big on an upset in the Keystone State, and recent polling shows the race tightening. Still, he's behind by a significant margin and is depending on support from many of the conservative white voters who backed Clinton in the primary, which she won by a comfortable margin.

If McCain carries the state, which went Democratic in the past four presidential elections and McCain aides call their most important target in the country, it would provide a cushion against losses in states that Bush won in 2004. An Obama defeat could mean a closer-than-expected contest nationally.

7. New Hampshire: : Polls close at 8 p.m. Independent-minded voters in this state delivered life-sustaining primary victories to McCain in 2000 and 2008. He returned Sunday, and it was more than a sentimental visit. Obama was heavily favored in the Democratic primary and went down to defeat.

With only four electoral votes, the state won't make much of a difference if McCain cannot hold bigger prizes such as Ohio. But the fact that he is scrapping for them suggests how narrow his path to the presidency has become.

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