PREVIEW: GENERAL ELECTION 2004
An hour-by-hour "guide" to what
to watch for as the returns come in
Monday, November 1, 2004
by Richard E. Berg-Andersson
NOTE: the following "guide" is intended to expand upon and, in certain cases, supplement the data found on this website's
Generally speaking, I do enjoy that which I do for 'The Green Papers': writing my Commentaries, answering 'vox Populi', gathering even the most arcane election data as well as detailed information about the electoral process, working on many other different things- some of which is not yet publicly available to the user of this website! Yes, I do enjoy all this-- that is, generally speaking.
But I have to confess that I have never wished an election had already been held, and the result already decided, as much as this one! I honestly do wish that we Americans all had already gone to the polls on, say, Louisiana's (for its State elections) "second to last Saturday in October" instead of the usual "Tuesday next after the first Monday in November"- for, then, Election 2004 would have been held back on 23 October and it would (at least presumably), right now, all be over (well... all except for the lawsuits and the recounting, perhaps! [;-)]). I have never ever felt an election campaign drag on as much as I have felt that this one has!
At first, I thought that this all had to do with when the Presidential/Vice-Presidential Debates ended (back on Wednesday 13 October- not quite three weeks ago but it, somehow, seems much longer ago than that right now!)-- but, four years ago, the last debate was held about the same amount of time before the Election; in addition, the compressed time frame in which all four debates were held this time- a little under two weeks- was not all that different from that used back in 2000... so that can't be it!
Is it, then, any anxiety on my part as to whether or not we are only going to end up going through a lot of what we went through re: Florida last time? Perhaps... but I still think that, when the returns actually come in beginning tomorrow night, whoever is elected President will end up with a significant margin in the Electoral College (at least the high-280s into 290s range, perhaps even the low 300s!): while I don't foresee an Electoral Vote landslide, I think that- despite the polling so far- there will be an overall trend, as Americans actually go to the polls and vote, more to one side or the other ("staying the course" or "throwing the 'bum' out") that will play itself out and push either President Bush or Senator Kerry well past the "finish line" of 270 Electoral Votes needed to be elected. Thus, I don't really see a replay of what occurred four years ago-- indeed, it is far more likely we will actually know who will be leading the 55th Presidential Administration which will officially take office at Noon come Thursday 20 January 2005 by no later than sometime Wednesday 3 November... then again, we'll all just have to wait and see! ;-)
In the end, regardless of my truly wishing this Election had already been held and we were now already well post-Election 2004, the day of final electoral reckoning is about to arrive- the "only poll that actually counts" will be the one soon to be alone perused in its aftermath- and it is (finally!) now time for me to present the reader of 'The Green Papers' with an hour-by-hour guide to what to look for as the polls close in State after State and the Election 2004 returns begin to roll in during the evening of Tuesday 2 November and on into the wee hours of the 3rd. This piece, by the way, is not intended to predict anything (we here at 'The Green Papers' do not predict, we can only prepare you): the closest I will ever come to an election prognostication is the following--
In the main, Presidential Election 2004 has always been more President Bush's election to lose than Senator Kerry's to win. This would, of course, be true of any presidential election in which an incumbent is seeking a second term but added to this is the fact that Reapportionment of U.S. House seats (and, by extension, Electoral Votes per State) since the previous presidential election has clearly made things harder for the Democrats (if Senator Kerry were to win every State Al Gore won back in 2000, he'd end up with 7 fewer Electoral Votes than Gore got from those very same States). Senator Kerry has done pretty much everything he possibly can to win (as pointed out in some of my more recent writings on this site, Kerry has done that for which, in some of my earlier Commentaries, I criticized him for not doing); meanwhile, President Bush hasn't done anything to lose this election. Each candidate has, overall (despite the usual campaign "spin" and hyperbole on behalf of both sides) well stated their respective positions and it is now going to be up to the American People to collectively decide who should be President for the next four years.
In a nutshell, Senator Kerry needs three things to take place in order to win this Presidential Election:
1. Kerry has to, as much as is practicable, win all the States Al Gore won in 2000 (even with their 7 fewer Electors overall)- just a reminder (and in alphabetical order), these were: California, Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington and Wisconsin.
2. Wherever Kerry might lose a 2000 Gore State listed above, he has to then win a comparable State Bush himself had won back in 2000 (lose Pennsylvania [21 Electoral Votes]?- then take Ohio [20 Electoral Votes]; lose New Mexico [5 Electoral Votes]?- make sure you've won West Virginia [same number of Electoral Votes]-- just to state two rather obvious examples).
3. Even if he can pull off either 1. or 2., John Kerry will, in my opinion, still also need what I call a "Surprise State" (there could very well be more than one of these, but there has to be at least one in Kerry's favor in concert with those first two items) in order to ultimately win the Presidency- a "Surprise State" being one re: which we all slap one of our hands upside our heads in 'I coulda had a V-8' fashion and say, almost in unison, "How in the world did Kerry win that one?!" (such a State would, of course, not be among those listed in 1. above-- but not all the States Bush won in 2000 can be considered "Surprise States" should Kerry win one or more of them [for varying reasons (noted below), neither New Hampshire nor West Virginia can be viewed as such; neither can, quite obviously, Florida!]).
Absent the above, President Bush will be re-elected-- and this should be well kept in mind as you read this piece and, later on, watch the returns as State after State is, eventually, "call"ed for one presidential candidate or the other.
One final note: the poll closing times by which this Election Preview is organized are those at which time ALL the polls have closed by general law (my use of this last underlined term will become clear shortly) in a given State (including States where some polls close later- in relative time- than elsewhere in that same State). The mainstream media- for all practical purposes, the over-the-air and cable TV news networks as well as the websites of print and other media- has promised that, unlike in 2000, they will not project a winner (should they be able to do so) until after the times seen in this Commentary: 'The Green Papers', meanwhile, has never "called" a race on Election Night before all a State's polls have closed (we even kept to this "rule" four years ago- though we at this website reserve the right to call, for example, a race for the U.S. House where a Congressional District is wholly within a Time Zone where the polls have already closed, even if the polls elsewhere in the given State are still open) and this piece would have been using the poll closing times below in any event. Having said this, however, there still remain a handful of problematic issues re: differing poll closing times (mostly revolving around my earlier use of the term "by general law") in at least a few States and such will be noted below in the course of the remainder of this piece.
0000 UTC [7 PM Eastern Standard Time- 4 PM Pacific Standard Time]: all the polls will have closed in GEORGIA, INDIANA, KENTUCKY, SOUTH CAROLINA, VERMONT and VIRGINIA.
INDIANA and KENTUCKY are two States divided between two different Time Zones (Eastern and Central). In the past, these- States whose preference for the Presidency were seemingly always rather quickly discerned- were almost always "called" by the mainstream media not all that long after 6 PM Eastern (2300 UTC), by which time polls in the advanced (Eastern) Time Zone portion of the State will have closed (while they remain open in the lagging [Central] Time Zone for nearly another hour). Thus, these are interesting principally as the very first "test" of the media's resolve; if a mainstream media outlet "calls" the presidential winner in either State- if not both- before 0000 UTC/7 PM EST, one would then have to assume that "all bets" are thereafter "off" as to how well the media will keep its promises throughout the rest of the evening!
Other than this, there is not all that much to look at in either State: the INDIANA Governor's race is rather interesting- pitting the man who succeeded a Governor who had died in office against a former Bush Administration economic adviser- and it's close. The only race in KENTUCKY of note is that involving Nick Clooney- the father of actor George Clooney and the brother of the late singer Rosemary Clooney- as the Democratic candidate for a seat in Congress; besides the "celebrity factor", it's close.
None of the other States where the polls are closing this early have races which provide much interest to the political observer outside the respective States and Congressional Districts. In GEORGIA, there are two Congressional races (in CDs 12 and 13) where Democrats have an outside chance of defeating GOP incumbents but the key word here is "outside". Throughout most of these States where the polls will be closing earliest in the Nation, it appears there will be little surprise.
0030 UTC [7:30 PM Eastern- 4:30 PM Pacific]: all the polls will have closed in OHIO and WEST VIRGINIA.
Thus, two of the more interesting States to watch become potentially "callable" throughout the remainder of what will likely prove to be a long evening.
OHIO is, no question, the "mother of all battleground States" for 2004. Much (too much!) is made of the fact that no Republican has ever been elected President without also winning OHIO. Simply put- in current terms- this is a State Bush won last time and Kerry could bring it over to his column which, if the Massachusetts Senator does, puts him in something of the proverbial "driver's seat" re: who will win the Presidency (depending, of course, on how the presidential voting breaks down elsewhere). Thus, OHIO becomes an interesting bellwether of President Bush's re-election chances.
WEST VIRGINIA, meanwhile, is the opposite: a usually reliably Democratic State (though somewhat conservative in sociocultural outlook, it voted for Dukakis back in 1988- the only State south of the Mason-Dixon line to do so!), it went for Bush in 2000. This is one State the Democrats would love to take back. In a sense, WEST VIRGINIA is a "reverse NEW HAMPSHIRE" (see below)-- if Kerry can win it, it augurs well that Kerry might yet be able to win that "Surprise State" I think Senator Kerry will need in order to pull Election 2004 out.
0100 UTC [8 PM Eastern- 5 PM Pacific]: all the polls will have closed in ALABAMA, CONNECTICUT, DELAWARE, the DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, FLORIDA, ILLINOIS, KANSAS, MAINE, MARYLAND, MASSACHUSETTS, MISSISSIPPI, MISSOURI, NEW HAMPSHIRE, NEW JERSEY, OKLAHOMA, PENNSYLVANIA and TENNESSEE.
FLORIDA- it almost goes without saying- is the most interesting of all these States, if only because of what happened there four years ago. A Kerry victory in the Sunshine State is important not so much in relation to Kerry's overall quest for the Presidency (though it so obviously is important in that regard) as it is in relation to what is going on elsewhere: a Kerry win in Florida could end up putting Kerry "over the top" (depending on when it is called in relation to who has already been seen as winning other States) but, more likely, a Kerry win in Florida would make up for some Electoral Votes Kerry did not win elsewhere. A Bush loss in Florida is, therefore, not necessarily fatal to the President's chances for re-election; on the other hand, a Bush win does put the proverbial "big hurt" to Kerry's winning the Presidency.
MAINE is interesting primarily because it is one of the only two States to, at least as of this typing (I'll be talking about COLORADO later in this piece), be able to split its Electoral Vote. The Pine Tree State currently seems a Kerry State but President Bush came close to winning one of the two Congressional District Electors four years ago and it is quite possible Bush could actually win CD 2 this time, even if he should lose the State as a whole (thus MAINE would, in such a case, be a 3-1 split for the very first time since it enacted its Electoral College law back in 1969 [effective with the 1972 Election]).
NEW HAMPSHIRE is another one of those potential problematic States as to how early races there can be "called". General Law in the State states that the polls should close no later than 7 PM local time (0000 UTC)- they can close as early as whenever all registered voters in a Town(ship) have cast their ballots (which is why places such as Dixville Notch and Hart's Location- with literally handfuls of registered voters- try and get everyone living in those places to cast their votes as soon as possible after midnight and, thus become "first in the Nation" to officially announce their results). The problem is that cities in the Granite State (there are but 13 of these, compared to 221 town[ship]s) have the "local option" to keep polls open therein until 8 PM Eastern (0100 UTC)- of course, a city can theoretically decide not to avail itself of this option. Again, a "test" of the mainstream media to keep its resolve (since this used to be a State called not all that long after 7 PM Eastern [0000 UTC], where that was possible).
NEW HAMPSHIRE is also interesting, in 2004, for another reason: it, once a certain conservative Republican bailiwick, is a "battleground" State. If Senator Kerry should win New Hampshire, it augurs rather well for his possibly winning the White House (for this would likely indicate a lot of conservatives ticked off at Bush for a record Federal deficit, along with other matters of interest to the more libertarian conservative, are willing to vote for someone from neighboring [and liberal] Massachusetts-- this might indicate that other ticked-off conservatives in other parts of the country might be willing to do the same). The Granite State, however, is not a "Surprise State" Kerry, in my opinion, needs in order to achieve ultimate victory, for it has already voted for Bill Clinton- twice!- while, at the same time, electing Republican U.S. Senators in each case. If Bush, meanwhile, should win New Hampshire, it means nothing in terms of prognostication (New Hampshire is still conservative enough so that Bush should win it).
PENNSYLVANIA is, more or less, the direct opposite of New Hampshire. Simply put, Kerry cannot lose the Keystone State, for it is- indeed- the "keystone" to any chances for a Kerry victory (it would be rather hard for Senator Kerry to, elsewhere, make up for the loss of this State which, in 2000, had voted for Al Gore: the conventional wisdom is that- of Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania- the winner of two of these three probably wins the Presidency; assuming this be true, losing PA would mean Kerry would have to win the other two [something Gore did not do four years ago]). Thus, if Bush should win Pennsylvania, it would then likely be that Kerry can't win the White House simply because the Electoral Vote math would now be even less in Kerry's favor; if Kerry, on the other hand, wins Pennsylvania, it doesn't help him all that much in his quest for the Presidency (other than his here having dodged a rather sizeable "bullet"): for this is a State Senator Kerry should be able to win.
My own State of NEW JERSEY is another one to at least look at from the corner of one's eye as the returns come in: it seems relatively safe for Kerry now, as I type this, after a period of see-saw polls (usually Kerry slightly up or virtual dead heat-- relatively rarely has Bush been significantly ahead this Fall) but the Garden State is another one Kerry should be able to win and really can't afford to lose (if Bush should win both NJ and PA, the Presidential Election is- for all intents and purposes- already decided!)
The other States don't really provide all that much to watch: MISSOURI is, in effect, the GOP version of NEW JERSEY- it has had a period of see-saw polling but now seems to be settling into the Bush column; like NEW JERSEY, it bears at least some peripheral watching. MISSOURI does have an interesting Governor's race between Democrat Claire McCaskill (who has already ousted incumbent Governor Bob Holden in the Primary last August) and Republican Matt Blunt. In CONNECTICUT, incumbent House Republican Christopher Shays [CD 4] seems to suddenly be in the political fight of his life (virtually overnight!), though he remains favored- yet this one bears at least some watching. OKLAHOMA has an interesting U.S. Senate race, one in which Democratic Congressman Brad Carson (against a Republican Congressman, Tom Coburn) is trying to turn a currently Republican Senate seat (former Republican whip Don Nickles is retiring) into a Democrat one.
0130 UTC [8:30 PM Eastern- 5:30 PM Pacific]: all the polls will have closed in ARKANSAS and NORTH CAROLINA.
ARKANSAS- whose native son is, after all, former President Bill Clinton- is one of those States Kerry supporters might well look to as a potential "Surprise State" for Kerry; currently, however, it seems to safely be in the Bush column.
NORTH CAROLINA is the more interesting of the two: first, it is a problematic State in terms of poll closing times and media "call"s- like NEW HAMPSHIRE, it allows "local option" (in this case, on the County level) to keep the polls open an extra hour (thus, this State could still be called by the mainstream media as early as 0030 UTC [7:30 PM Eastern] on grounds that the "general law" poll closing time is that earlier hour); secondly, it is the home State of John Kerry's running mate, outgoing Senator John Edwards, though it currently looks as if this will make little, if any, difference in this State (or, for that matter, throughout the rest of the South); finally, it has an interesting U.S. Senate race involving a former Clinton Administration official as the Democratic candidate trying to hold at least one of the 5 Senate seats being vacated by Southern Democrats (most of which- if not all- are likely GOP pickups) for that Party.
0200 UTC [9 PM Eastern- 6 PM Pacific]: all the polls will have closed in ARIZONA, COLORADO, LOUISIANA, MICHIGAN, MINNESOTA, NEBRASKA, NEW MEXICO, NEW YORK, RHODE ISLAND, SOUTH DAKOTA, TEXAS, WISCONSIN and WYOMING.
COLORADO is most interesting because of its "Amendment 36" which would divide the State's Electoral Vote proportionally (though, as of this typing, it appears that this Initiative will not pass) but it is also a "battleground State" (though appearing to continue to lean toward Bush as of this typing). The U.S. Senate race- between Democrat former Attorney General Ken Salazar and Republican beer mogul Pete Coors- here is also an interesting one to watch. COLORADO, along with ARIZONA, are also States that one could see potentially being that "Surprise State" for Kerry I talked about earlier in this piece: as of this typing, ARIZONA seems more safely in the Bush column (and, thus, closer to what I have already said about MISSOURI than it would be to COLORADO).
MICHIGAN and MINNESOTA are both one-time Democratic bailiwicks that have become "battlegrounds" and they are States that Gore won and which, therefore, Kerry really can't afford to lose. MINNESOTA is actually the most interesting of the two: the once-dominant Democrat-Farmer Labor alliance that produced Hubert Humphrey, Walter Mondale and Paul Wellstone has been losing political influence of late; keep in mind that this is the State that, not all that long ago, once elected Independent Jesse Ventura Governor and elected both a Republican Governor and a Republican U.S. Senator two years ago. The outcome in MINNESOTA (depending on how things might have transpired elsewhere) could spell outright doom for Kerry's presidential bid should Bush manage to take this one (as, in such a case, this would be the negative bellwether for Kerry in terms of nearby IOWA). MICHIGAN, meanwhile, seems more like my own NEW JERSEY as of this typing (that is, it looks as if Kerry will likely win this one which has been a see-saw in polls over the course of the campaign) but still bears at least some peripheral watching as the returns come in.
NEW MEXICO was the "Surprise State" for Al Gore last time (though, in the end, Gore was not elected). Because it was a Gore State in 2000, it is now on that list of States Kerry really can't afford to lose and also can't be that "Surprise State" I argue Kerry has to win in order to win it all.
SOUTH DAKOTA is interesting only because the most threatened incumbent U.S. Senator is battling for re-election here and that happens to be the current Democratic leader in the Senate, Tom Daschle!
TEXAS is not at all interesting as regards the presidential race (the Lone Star State being home to the incumbent President and heavily favoring him) but it does contain more than a few interesting races for the U.S. House: because of court-ordered redistricting, two Congressional Districts in the State (CDs 19 and 32) have pitted incumbent Congressmen against each other (very unusual in a Congressional Election not immediately following general nationwide Reapportionment, as was the case back in 2002) plus there are at least a couple more races in which incumbent Congressmen- in redrawn versions of their Districts- face tough re-election fights. TEXAS could be the place where Republicans most "pad their lead" re: their control of the U.S. House of Representatives!
WISCONSIN is another "battleground State" re: the presidential election and another 2000 Gore State Kerry really can't afford to lose. Either the comments I made about MINNESOTA (above) or the comments I made about MICHIGAN (also above) generally apply also to WISCONSIN (which is politically, as well as geographically, between the two): the election returns will tell us which!
0300 UTC [10 PM Eastern- 7 PM Pacific]: all the polls will have closed in IOWA, MONTANA, NEVADA and UTAH.
What has already been said about WISCONSIN (above) goes ditto for IOWA. Indeed, Kerry holding onto all three Upper Midwest States- IOWA, MINNESOTA and WISCONSIN- may well (even moreso than Kerry managing to win OHIO or FLORIDA whilst holding onto PENNSYLVANIA) determine whether or not President Bush will ultimately be re-elected. NEVADA, meanwhile, is more like MISSOURI (a State Bush should win but which, nevertheless, bears at least peripheral watching)-- it is yet another one that could well be the "Surprise State" Kerry might need (assuming Kerry has not already picked up a "surprise" by this hour).
MONTANA and UTAH both have interesting Governor's races that bear some watching but their presidential choice has long been pretty much a "given" (Bush in both cases).
0400 UTC [11 PM Eastern- 8 PM Pacific]: all the polls will have closed in CALIFORNIA, HAWAII, IDAHO, NORTH DAKOTA, OREGON and WASHINGTON.
The biggest potential threats to Senator Kerry's bid for the Presidency among these States are to be found in OREGON and WASHINGTON. Both 2000 Gore States which- again, almost by definition- Kerry simply can't afford to lose, as of this typing they both seem reasonably safe Kerry country but, much like NEW JERSEY and MICHIGAN, they bear at least peripheral watching. More to the point, by the time the polls close in these States- and they, thereby, become potentially "callable"- we all will have already seen at least some pattern emerging within the Electoral Vote map from among those States already "called" by this hour and it will, presumably, already be clear by then whether it is President Bush or Senator Kerry who has the upper hand (that is, we will already- by 0400 UTC [11 PM Eastern]- know what each presidential candidate yet needs among any States not yet "called" in order to eventually be elected President in this election).
0600 UTC [1 AM Eastern- 10 PM Pacific]: all the polls will have closed in ALASKA (the very last State whose polls will have completely closed re: the General Election of Tuesday 2 November 2004).
ALASKA will have no real effect on the presidential race (unless it should prove to be a "Surprise State" Kerry needs in order to win-- and, boy!, that would be a surprise!! [;-)]) but it does have a very interesting U.S. Senate race between Republican incumbent Lisa Murkowski- who had hitherto been serving by appointment by her own father, the State's Governor, to fill the vacancy caused by his having been elected Governor- and her Democratic challenger, former Governor Tony Knowles- the very man former Senator Frank Murkowski had actually succeeded! (by this hour, we should have some fairly good idea as to how the United States Senate of the new 109th Congress to take office next January is shaping up and this last Senate race could yet prove crucial to the overall balance of political power in that chamber--- in other words, we all could, at this point, very well be looking "north to the future" [;-)], at least insofar as the Senate is concerned!)