UPDATE at 7:54 p.m.: For running commentary on the election results, please click here.
I decided earlier this year that I am out of the predictions business, at least for this crazy year we call 2016. Predictions are based in large part on what’s happened before in similar situations, and it’s clear that past was no prologue for this year.
So, instead of telling you what I think will happen — because prompting another hearty laugh from the election gods at my expense isn’t high on my to-do list at this point — here are the things I will be watching for tonight when it comes to federal races:
Presidential race: Hillary Clinton’s poll numbers stabilized in the last few days, helped no doubt by FBI Director James Comey’s whiplash “nothing to see here” on the additional emails he brought to the public’s attention less than two weeks earlier. This looks like hers for the taking, but here’s a reason not to get cocky, Dems: The expected margins in the states it would take to put Donald Trump over the top are very thin. Here is how Nate Silver at FiveThirtyEight.com projects those states:
- Florida: Clinton +0.7 percentage points.
- North Carolina: Clinton +0.7
- Nevada: Clinton +1.2
- New Hampshire: Clinton +3.6
So that’s two states within 1.5 points, and another within 4 points, which could swing the Electoral College vote to Trump. This assumes he also wins Maine’s 2nd Congressional District, which Silver basically rates a toss-up, and all the states where he’s ahead. Of the latter group, his narrowest expected margins are in Ohio (Trump +1.9), Arizona (Trump +2.2) and Georgia (Trump +4.0). Put all that together, and he’d have a bare-minimum majority in the Electoral College: 270 votes. Real Clear Politics, based on its poll averages, has Clinton also winning narrowly: 272-266.
Here are those Trump-leaning states by when their polls close:
- Georgia: 7 p.m.
- North Carolina and Ohio: 7:30 p.m.
- Florida, Maine, New Hampshire: 8 p.m.
So we could have a pretty good idea by 9 p.m. whether Trump still has a chance.
Senate races: The Republicans’ chances appear to be far better at holding on to their majority in the Senate. Silver has their chances basically even, and Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball is calling for a 50-50 split, with the vice president needed to break ties. Can you say gridlock? Real Clear Politics is slightly more bullish for the GOP, with its poll averages putting the party at 51 seats.
Republicans were at a disadvantage this cycle, having to defend 24 of the 34 seats up for election. It seems certain Democrats will pick up a GOP-held seat in Illinois and all but certain they’ll win another in Wisconsin. Republicans’ best chance of a gain is in Nevada, where they would definitely savor putting one of their own into the seat being vacated by Harry Reid. Here are the seats Silver has as the closest calls:
- New Hampshire (R-held; D +0.3 points)
- Missouri (R-held; R +0.7)
- Nevada (D-held; D +1.2)
- Pennsylvania (R-held; D +1.2)
- North Carolina (R-held; R +2.2)
- Indiana (R-held; R +2.5)
Note that, in addition to the times listed above, Indiana polls close at 7 p.m., and Missouri and Pennsylvania at 8 p.m. Again, we could have a fairly good idea by 9 o’clock tonight what the balance of power in the Senate will look like.
In Georgia, even the possibility of forcing a runoff with incumbent Johnny Isakson has begun to look like a faint hope for the Democrats. I’ll be watching here to see what Isakson’s number looks like compared to Trump’s. He has a decent third-party candidate in his race, too, so it’s a pretty apt comparison. In fact, looking at Trump’s numbers compared to GOP Senate candidates’ in all the swing states with Senate races will be very instructive for trying to draw conclusions from this election on the Republican side, especially if Trump loses but the party holds the upper chamber.