PREVIEW: GENERAL ELECTION 2008
An "hour-by-hour" guide to what
to watch for as the returns come in
Monday, November 3, 2008
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 'Contests to Watch and Polling Data'.
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... 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!
RICHARD E. BERG-ANDERSSON-- as posted on this very website: Monday 1 November 2004
As I ponder those very words I typed at the start of a General Election Preview similar to this one (and, like this piece, posted on the day before Election Day itself) four years ago, I have to confess that I feel much the same way about this upcoming Presidential Election-- perhaps even more so than I did just before the previous one!
I admit I feel rather strange about this. As I'll point out one more time (and, please forgive me, gentle reader-- but, obviously, this will be the very last time I'll be able to say this)- as I put it in the last Commentary I wrote before the most recent Federal election (this being the Midterm Election of 2006)- this has, indeed, been an historic contest, regardless of who is actually elected President as a result of the voting tomorrow for it, indeed, was one in which, for the first time since 1952, the presidential candidates [here meaning all those contending for the presidential nominations a year ago at this time] of the two Major Parties [were not] either
And, when the presidential nominations of the two Major Parties were actually made, we ended up- on one side- with a nominee who has the first realistic shot at becoming the Nation's very first African-American President and, on the other side, with someone who looked positively "dead in the water" as a potential nominee just a year ago at this time. The person who was willing to bet big money, a year ago today, that Barack Obama and John McCain would be the Major Party presidential candidates squaring off in this year's Presidential Election was the very same guy who, even before the very last pitch of the 2007 World Series was being hurled towards the plate by Jonathan Papelbon of the Boston Red Sox, also bet big money that the Tampa Bay Rays would be the American League representative in this year's World Series!
And Joe Biden and Sarah Palin as the vice-presidential nominees to boot? "Come on!", one would have said to all of this back in early November 2007. I mean: if there were going to be a woman on a Major Party ticket in 2008, of course it would have had to have been Senator Hillary Clinton!-- and she was so clearly going to be at the top of her Party's ticket... right?
BZZZZZZZZ... Thanks for playing!
'What utter political craziness ended up playing itself out!', I think as I take one last perfunctory glance at all I myself have written about this presidential campaign for this website going back to the aftermath of the Iowa Caucuses shortly after New Year's... did that really take place less than a year ago? Seems as if it has been more like a decade since both Senator Obama and former Governor Mike Huckabee stunned the political world this past 3 January (of course, come 3 January 2010, 3 January 2008 will then seem as if it were only a week or so before-- how strange the workings of human memory!)
At any rate, one certainly can't complain that this whole presidential process- as it actually transpired this time round- was all that boring (if anything, I now worry that- assuming 'The Green Papers' is [or, for that matter, I myself am] still around come 2012, of course- the next presidential election campaign I might write about will only seem something of a letdown, certainly as compared to this year's): yet, at the same time, Campaign '08 seems to have dragged on these last few weeks since at least the final Presidential Debate back in mid-October.
Thankfully, however, we are just about at the very end and, with the Final Act (well, one surely hopes that there shall be no need for an 'Epilogue' such as that provided by the cliffhanger 'Florida 2000' this time!) scheduled to take place come Tuesday 4 November- this Tuesday- tomorrow as I type this!- Hurrah!!- the suspense will finally be over and we all should- within a reasonably short time of (although it might well turn out to be a certain number of hours after) the polls closing, incrementally, across the USofA- know who the 44th President of the United States of America will actually be...
yes, indeed: it's just about all over but for the choosing!
So, what should we all be looking at as the election returns start to come in and we begin to well ponder just how the choice (whatever that choice) has been made?
Well, four years ago, the interest in that 2004 Election was as much- if not more- about whether or not the Democrats might be able to wrest control of Congress from the Republicans as it was about whether or not the incumbent in the White House might yet be defeated. Of course, the Democrats failed in both quests that November-- President George W. Bush, unlike his own father, won a second term and House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi had to wait another two years before becoming the first female Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives.
This year, there is no real buzz about the Congressional races per se. For the question is not: can the Republicans take back one or both houses of Congress; the question now is more about by just how much will the Democrats be able to "pad their lead"! Thus, all the interest seems focused on the Presidential Election alone and this Preview will do likewise.
Even so: this piece, as I said about the similar piece I wrote four years back, is not intended to predict anything (again, we here at 'The Green Papers' do not predict, we can only prepare you) and the poll closing times by which this Election Preview is organized are those at which time ALL the polls have closed by general law in a given State (including States where some polls close later- in relative time- than elsewhere in that same State). In addition, and this should go without saying (or, rather, typing) but I'll note it here anyway: the times below in UTC (Universal Coordinated Time, which is pretty much the same as- a preferred term [that is: if you are as "old school" as me!]- Greenwich Mean Time [GMT]) are actually those re: Wednesday 5 November (but, of course, it will still be Tuesday the 4th where I will be, here at home in New Jersey, throughout that evening on which the election returns will be coming in).
To start with, a note about INDIANA and KENTUCKY- two earliest-poll closing States divided between two different Time Zones (Eastern and Central). In the not so distant past, both of these- being States whose preference for the Presidency were seemingly, almost always, rather quickly discerned- were generally "called"- at least insofar as their respective presidential choices- 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). How well I so clearly recall how, while getting ready to watch the returns re: the 1976 Presidential Election come in on TV while still a student at Boston University (excitedly so, too-- as 1976 was the very first Presidential Election in which I was eligible to vote), the venerable Walter Cronkite- then anchoring the CBS Evening News- could announce that Indiana was called for Gerald Ford and Kentucky for Jimmy Carter right after the newscast began at 6:30 Eastern Time that evening!
Four years ago, there was supposed to have been an "understanding" within the media that the winning presidential candidate (or, for that matter, winners in other Statewide races) in a given State would not be called until all the polls had closed in that State; yet I have noticed that- on at least one cable/satellite news network here in the States- a "countdown clock" in the corner of my TV screen to "First Polls Close" indicates the "witching hour" to be 6 PM Eastern=2300 UTC come 4 November...
nonetheless, as I noted four years ago, 'The Green Papers'... has never "called" a race on Election Night before all a State's polls have closed (...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.
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.
Of these, the first real political "bellwether" will be VIRGINIA: the sooner- after this poll closing time- it is called for either McCain or Obama, the better the evening looks for the candidate in question: in McCain's case, an "early" win here in The Old Dominion indicates that the Arizona Senator is not so easily going to give up those States that went for President Bush back in both 2000 and 2004; in Obama's case, an "early" win for him here is an indicator that the Illinois Senator might well be picking up many of the very kind of voter that McCain will need in order to hold onto "Bush Country" elsewhere throughout the Nation. The longer VIRGINIA remains "out" past 7 PM Eastern=0000 UTC, however, the worse it is for Senator McCain, even should he ultimately win this State: for, while it would not indicate an Obama "pickup" somewhere out there in what, again, has lately been "Bush Country" will be at all easy for the Democrat, it will- nevertheless- indicate that Obama is at least competitive in "Bush Country" (though, unlike an "early" call for Obama here, it also would seem to portend a rather late night- if not well into the following day- before we all will know who America's next President will be). Back in '00 and '04, VIRGINIA went for Bush by percentage margins of 52-44 and 54-45, respectively: it would be wise to watch as VIRGINIA's returns pile up throughout the night and see how McCain's margin compares to these-- comparative or better, McCain is in good shape nationally; tighter than this (or, especially, an Obama lead that- no matter how close- holds for a significant length of time as returns come in) and it bodes well for Obama elsewhere in what would otherwise be GOP territory.
INDIANA will also- rather unusually, considering its position as a solidly Republican stronghold for quite some time- be interesting to watch, only because it is nestled right in between Obama's home State of ILLINOIS and what is, by all accounts, the "battleground" State of OHIO. Bush took the Hoosier State by 57-41 in 2000, 60-39 in 2004. McCain should win this one (although recent polls seem to show it as at least a "toss up") but how the Arizonan's numbers here compare to Bush's might well be most telling. And if, somehow, Obama can actually win INDIANA, it'll be a very long night at McCain campaign headquarters, indeed!
The other States whose polls close at this hour should produce no surprises (if any of them do, then that- too- will be rather telling of how this evening might well progress [particularly as regards the prospects for the McCain/Palin ticket, either good or bad]).
0030 UTC [7:30 PM Eastern- 4:30 PM Pacific]: all the polls will have closed in OHIO and WEST VIRGINIA.
OHIO is, of course, the first big-Electoral Vote "bang for the buck" that is, by all accounts, the proverbial political "battleground" this time round: it would be a big surprise if the Buckeye State were called rather soon after this moment of 7:30 PM Eastern=0030 UTC (such an event would, obviously, signal quite a lot regarding to whom most of the remaining returns from this Presidential Election might be headed) but I would not at all expect this. We will, most likely, be watching OHIO for at least a while before it is "called" for one presidential candidate or the other.
WEST VIRGINIA, on the other hand, is a State that, while it trends Democratic in State and local elections, has been reliable "Bush Country" on the presidential level. Bush won 56-43 over Kerry, but only 52-46 over Gore (meaning, Gore could have won here with a shift of only 20,000 votes). 'Tis been said that, as much as this State (the pro-Union bastion of secessionist old Virginny going into the Civil War) has cultural and political ties to the industrial Mid-Atlantic and Great Lakes regions of the country, it tends to be more "Southern" in hard economic times-- the problem is: which "South"? The South that once- generations ago- welcomed the New Deal and unionization? or the South that is, above all else, socioculturally- where not also economically- conservative in the more recent senses of these terms? The answer to this question will go quite a long way towards determining if Senator Obama might be able to "steal" this one (or, if not, other "Bush Country" States later on) from the Republicans. As with INDIANA, watch McCain's percentages in WEST VIRGINIA and compare them to Bush's already cited: even moreso here for, if McCain is running more like Bush in '04 as more and more returns from the State where Mountaineers are Always Free come in, that will mean one thing; if McCain seems more like Bush '00, it means quite another; and, if McCain is running behind either Bush victory margin, it might well mean a third! We are here faced with, as regards the fortunes of the McCain/Palin ticket, something analogous to the football adage "When a quarterback puts the ball into the air, three things can happen-- and two of them are bad!"
0100 UTC [8 PM Eastern- 5 PM Pacific]: all the polls will have closed in ALABAMA, CONNECTICUT, DELAWARE, the DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, FLORIDA, ILLINOIS, MAINE, MARYLAND, MASSACHUSETTS, MISSISSIPPI, MISSOURI, NEW HAMPSHIRE, NEW JERSEY, OKLAHOMA, PENNSYLVANIA and TENNESSEE.
Even if McCain is holding his own in most of the States whose polls have already closed before now (VERMONT being the only one of these where Obama would be thought to have a distinct advantage), these "8 o'clock in the East" States- the largest number of poll closings at any one time on Election Night- should be where Obama starts to pick up steam (assuming he hasn't already). More than half of these are States which did not vote for President Bush in either election the current President won and, of these, only PENNSYLVANIA seems to fully be a "battleground" State. Obviously, if McCain can cut into "Obama territory" within this group of States, then the election is going in a very good direction for McCain; more likely, however, Obama will win the States in this group he is expected to win (these being the 'Gore/Kerry' States of CONNECTICUT, DELAWARE, D.C., his own home State of ILLINOIS, MAINE, MARYLAND, MASSACHUSETTS and NEW JERSEY)-- nevertheless, the longer at least some of these are "out" (that is, uncallable by the media) after their polls have closed, the better it is for McCain (even if he does not win any of them), for this would indicate a weakness in Obama's candidacy among voters with whom he should otherwise be doing quite well. At the same time- let's face it, dear reader: McCain winning the Bay State would, indeed, be a brand new kind of "MASSACHUSETTS miracle"! ;-)
Meanwhile, along with PENNSYLVANIA, FLORIDA- obviously- is fully a "battleground" that is likely (as I have opined above re: OHIO) to "stay out" late before finally being projected (again- and this is true of PENNSYLVANIA as well as both FLORIDA and OHIO: the earlier a winner is projected herein, the worse it is for the apparent loser of the State). NEW HAMPSHIRE is also a State worth watching (having elected, for instance, a Democratic Governor in 5 out of the past 6 State elections: unusual for the Granite State, once a rather reliable conservative Republican bailiwick) and, even with only 4 Electoral Votes, "nuh-HAHMP-shuh" could prove to be a crucial "difference maker" if the overall Presidential Election turns out to be a close one across the country late into the night.
The other States to the South and West in this rather large "8 PM Eastern" group are, in the meantime, more likely to be McCain/Palin-friendly. In addition, MISSOURI has voted for the ultimate winner in the Electoral College since 1900 all but once (when it went for Adlai Stevenson instead of Dwight Eisenhower in 1956)-- could 2008 be # 2 (regardless of which candidate ultimately wins here)? Perhaps the ultimate "Border State" in so many ways, keep at least one eye on just how competitive the 'Show Me' State is (or- perhaps- isn't [an eventuality which would produce its own indicator for the rest of the evening as less of the East closes and more of the West begins to report in]) between the two Major Party standard-bearers as the evening progresses.
Other than this, the only other thing to watch for from the States in this group is whether or not one of MAINE's two Congressional Districts might possibly go for someone other than the Statewide winner (which would produce a 3-1 split in Electoral Vote here: the Pine Tree State being one of the only two States- the other being NEBRASKA- that "appoint" all but two at-Large Presidential Electors by District).
0130 UTC [8:30 PM Eastern- 5:30 PM Pacific]: all the polls will have closed in ARKANSAS and NORTH CAROLINA.
These States are, clearly, in what has been, reliably, "Bush Country" of late and, therefore, should be considered McCain/Palin-friendly: ARKANSAS has "appointed" Electors for only one Democrat since 1976 and that Democrat happened to be its own native son, Bill Clinton; meanwhile, NORTH CAROLINA has not voted for a Democrat for President since Jimmy Carter. An Obama win in either of these two States would, obviously, be altogether significant; Obama being at least competitive in either- if not both- would at least be noteworthy (Bush got 56% of the vote in NORTH CAROLINA both times: as the returns come in, watch how McCain's own percentages in NC compare to this level; if it turns out McCain wins the Tarheel State, but with well less than this 56%, this could well indicate that Obama has some potential openings in "McCain territory" further West- for McCain would not then be running as well as Bush had among many of the very kinds of voters McCain most needs overall in order to ultimately win the White House).
ARKANSAS, meanwhile, is much like WEST VIRGINIA: Democrat-friendly locally, but not so much so on the presidential level. Generally speaking, what I wrote about WEST VIRGINIA also applies here: which South? Even Arkansas' pro-Bush numbers were quite similar to those in West Virginia: Bush bested Kerry here in 2004 by 54-45 but only won the State with 51-46 against Gore four years before-- which Bush percentage breakdown McCain comes closer to (assuming McCain does, in fact, win Arkansas) will say quite a lot about the rest of the evening in the South and the West.
0200 UTC [9 PM Eastern- 6 PM Pacific]: all the polls will have closed in ARIZONA, COLORADO, KANSAS, LOUISIANA, MICHIGAN, MINNESOTA, NEBRASKA, NEW MEXICO, NEW YORK, RHODE ISLAND, SOUTH DAKOTA, TEXAS, WISCONSIN and WYOMING.
By now, even before the polls have closed in these States, it is theoretically possible for someone to have already been seen to have become President-elect (for all the States whose polls have closed prior to 9 PM Eastern=0200 UTC total more than the 270 Electoral Votes necessary to elect an American President)...
however, hardly likely!
Thus, it will be the States whose polls close at this hour that will- when combined with what is coming out of the States where the polls closed earlier- begin to now tell us whether or not a new President-elect will emerge relatively shortly or if we might well, instead, be in for a long night's journey into day!
To paraphrase what the late television journalist Tim Russert famously said about that FLORIDA which proved to be the very vortex of Presidential Election 2000: "COLORADO, COLORADO, COLORADO!" For, if both Senator McCain and Senator Obama have, so far, held their respective owns where they each would be most expected to have done so- while the "battleground" States so far (OHIO, PENNSYLVANIA and FLORIDA) are, indeed, proving to so be such battlegrounds as more and more returns come in from those "big three", then this year's Presidential Election may very well be decided in the Intermountain West and, as I myself wrote in my 'STATES AT STAKE' Commentary very recently, COLORADO happens to be one of those States where Democrats have done quite well in recent State and local elections. What one is now looking for is if Democratic Party gains in the Centennial State can translate into an Obama/Biden victory there (which, in turn, would put a "big hurt" on McCain/Palin).
ARIZONA, meanwhile, is McCain's home State and he cannot at all afford to lose it to Obama: for the last presidential candidate to lose his home State and still win the Presidency was Woodrow Wilson when he sought re-election back in 1916; the last newly-elected (that is, non-incumbent) President to win the White House despite losing his home State? James Knox Polk back in 1844! Losing one's home State in a presidential election is something which just can't be good (just ask George McGovern-- or Al Gore!) Meanwhile, the other interesting State to watch in this group is NEW MEXICO (another Western possibility for Obama: Al Gore won here back in 2000). Obama winning both COLORADO and NEW MEXICO would be a serious "one-two punch to the gut" of McCain's hopes for victory.
Other than the above, watch for those obvious surprises not actually all that likely to occur (if any of these do happen, it's altogether telling): a McCain victory in, say, MINNESOTA? Obama doing well enough in his mother's native KANSAS? and the like.
0300 UTC [10 PM Eastern- 7 PM Pacific]: all the polls will have closed in IOWA, MONTANA, NEVADA and UTAH.
Here's where the Obama/Biden ticket will have to cut into McCain/Palin-friendly areas (especially if the Electoral Vote map has, by now, started to look a bit too much like '2000/2004 Revisited'). UTAH is almost certainly McCain's but MONTANA is yet another State, like COLORADO, in which Democrats have done well in State and local elections and could possibly give Obama an otherwise Republican State (Bill Clinton won MONTANA- along with COLORADO and NEW MEXICO- during his first 'go round' back in '92). IOWA was Gore's in 2000 and, therefore, remains a real possibility for Obama: on the other hand, if Obama is not, in fact, winning either COLORADO or NEW MEXICO, IOWA might well turn into a "must win" for the Illinoisan (depending- of course- on what is being seen, by this point, in the returns coming out of FLORIDA, OHIO and PENNSYLVANIA).
NEVADA is also well in play here for Obama: George W. Bush barely got 50% of the State's vote each time (even though he ended up winning its Electoral Vote). What many people don't realize about Nevada (while they have certainly heard of its Las Vegas gambling and legalized brothels) is that it has a substantial Mormon population (the State's Republican Governor and one Democratic U.S. Senator- who happens to be Majority Leader Harry Reid- are both Church of Latter-Day Saints) and is, in the main, rather conservative- albeit with a large sprinkling of libertarianism: politically, then, Nevada is, in many ways, what might have been expected if California and Utah had produced a love child (Nevada was once part of Utah Territory but was subdivided as an extension of the California Public Land Survey grid) and, thus, it not necessarily as reliably Republican as UTAH almost always is (Bill Clinton won NEVADA both times he ran for President). Obama taking the Silver State might well prove the proverbial "nail in the coffin" for any hopes McCain might still have for winning the Presidency just before it is finally called for one or the other.
0400 UTC [11 PM Eastern- 8 PM Pacific]: all the polls will have closed in CALIFORNIA, HAWAII, IDAHO, NORTH DAKOTA, OREGON and WASHINGTON.
CALIFORNIA should produce no real surprise (if it does, however, it almost certainly means Obama is "toast"-- for no presidential candidate can afford to drop a cool 1/5+ of the Electoral Vote actually needed to win the Presidency and still expect to pull it out elsewhere). Democratic presidential nominees won the Golden State by percentage margins of 53-42 and 54-44, respectively, in the last two presidential elections. Comparing McCain's numbers to Bush's as returns are reported from here may well be instructive as to just how much- or how little- the Arizonan can cling to realistic thoughts of just what he might say in his Inaugural Address come next January.
None of the other States in this group should be at all surprising (if they are, then the very dynamic of the evening changes dramatically): George W. Bush won both IDAHO and NORTH DAKOTA by landslides each time, while Democrats had no real trouble winning either Senator Obama's native HAWAII or WASHINGTON in those same two elections.
OREGON, however, was a squeaker for Gore back in 2000 (he ended up winning the Beaver State by less than 7,000 votes), although Kerry won it 51-47 four years later. Obama's numbers- as returns come in from OREGON- should be compared to these: if Obama runs even or ahead of Kerry here, he should be in pretty good shape all along the Pacific Slope; however, approaching a Gore-like "sweating it out" would, quite obviously, make things far more interesting.
But, all in all, the way the 2008 Presidential Election has shaped up should already be well apparent (assuming it isn't already) within an hour of these polls closing along (and in) the Pacific and- by Midnight Eastern=0500 UTC, thanks to results in other parts of the country (in some cases, in States where the polls have been closed for at least two or three- or even four or more- hours by now)- we will either have a fairly good idea as to who the next President of the United States might very well be (even if that person has not yet finally "closed the deal") or we will be seriously entertaining the rather good idea (especially if one is watching things transpire from the East Coast, as *I* will be) of brewing up yet another pot of coffee to get us through the "long haul"!
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 4 November 2008).
There should be no surprise whatsoever in GOP vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin's home State (if there is, "turn out the lights, Sarah: the party's over!") and it is highly unlikely that results from ALASKA will play a major role in helping determine the overall winner...
'on the tundra, the frozen tundra, the bull moose sleeps tonight' ;-)
Now, if we should be approaching 0700 UTC= 2 AM Eastern (11 PM Pacific) with the victor of Presidential Election 2008 not yet known by then, then all bets are off (as they were back in 2000 when FLORIDA, early on called for Al Gore, was summarily taken out of the Gore column, then called for Bush, only to be taken out of that column for... uh... five weeks!)
No, no-- I'm not at all expecting a repeat of that particular debacle! But, with States still not called and neither National Ticket yet at the "magic 270" this late, then anything can happen... and probably will!... if this should prove to actually be the case, fasten your seat belts: for America has now encountered turbulence and it may well be a rather bumpy ride!
No matter which candidate those of you reading this might support-- or, for that matter, not support!-- I urge each and every one of you reading this who is a citizen of the United States of America and registered to vote to actually cast that vote (even if, as I have often discussed on this website before, you only go into the voting booth and choose no one- that is, cast the "ultimate undervote": a blank ballot- which, after all, is its own expression of one's political wishes). And, please, do not allow yourself to become discouraged by lines of your fellow voters that might be a bit too long or any problems or glitches that might ensue at the polling place once you get inside-- stick it out!-- don't let mere inconvenience keep you from doing that which is in your power as an American!!..
And may God bless all of those who are currently serving around the globe, many of them in harm's way, actively defending Freedoms such as that we are able to choose to exercise come Election Day... let us well honor their commitment and their sacrifice (in all too many sad cases, the ultimate sacrifice) by so exercising that First Liberty: the Right to Vote!
In other words:
GET OUT THERE AND VOTE!!!
*I* sure will!