Your definitive guide to watching the election returns tonight

Election day is upon us. There have been three changes to our ratings since last week: Kansas has moved from toss-up to leaning independent, Kentucky has moved from leaning Republican to likely Republican, and Georgia has moved from toss-up in a projected run-off to leaning Republican in a projected run-off. Our reasoning is explained in detail below.

Videos by Rare

States are listed at the times when the last polls close (with the exception of Alaska, where the media sometimes calls races before polls have closed in the western Aleutian Islands). In some states poll closing times vary by region, so don’t use this a guide for when to vote, only as a guide to watching the returns.

7:00 pm

South Carolina has two Senate races (one is a special election), and Republicans will easily win both.

Virginia’s Democratic Senator Mark Warner will fend off a challenge from former RNC Chairman Ed Gillespie fairly easily. He’s posted double digit leads for months. But the results are still worth watching.

Some of the latest polls show some tightening, and if the race is closer than expected, it could be an early harbinger of a national Republican wave. Pay attention to how long it takes for news outlets to call the race. Longer is better for the GOP’s prospects.

Georgia is one of the toughest call on the map, not because Democrat Michelle Nunn is likely to win tonight – the polls have been breaking toward Republican David Perdue – but because, with Libertarian Amanda Swafford in the mix, there’s a good chance that Perdue will fall short of 50% of the vote.

Under Georgia law, that triggers a run-off in January. We project a run-off, and give Perdue the advantage heading into January. But Perdue does have a chance of winning outright, and if he pulls it off that’s another sign that the Republican wave is real.

In Kentucky, Mitch McConnell will comfortably defeat the much-hyped Alison Lundergan Grimes. Democrats have basically given up on Grimes. Three weeks ago the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee very prudently stopped buying ads in Kentucky in favor of throwing resources behind Nunn in Georgia.


West Virginia, an open seat previously held by retiring Democrat Jay Rockefeller, is an easy GOP pick-up. Republican Shelly Moore Capito will beat Democrat Natalie Tennant by double digits.

North Carolina is a much dicier call: Incumbent Democrat Kay Hagan is favored to win, but her lead is narrow and an upset by Republican challenger Thom Tillis isn’t impossible. An upset here would mean that Democrats have little hope of holding the Senate.


Republicans will easily win in Maine, Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, and twice in Oklahoma (as in South Carolina, there are both regular and special elections). Democrats will easily win in Massachusetts, Illinois, Maryland, Delaware, and New Jersey.

New Hampshire is more interesting. Incumbent Democrat Jeanne Shaheen seemed to have the race in the bag until the end of the summer, when Scott Brown’s poll numbers started to rise. Brown has showed strength in the fall, and was very narrowly ahead in the final New England College poll.

Shaheen will probably still hang on, but it’ll be close. If Brown wins, Republicans are having a very, very good night.


Arkansas’s Mark Pryor will likely be the first Democratic incumbent to fall. Even if there are upsets in New Hampshire or North Carolina, those races will be too close for early-evening concession speeches. Republican Tom Cotton has opened up a comfortable lead.


Republicans will easily hold seats in Wyoming and Nebraska. Democrats will hold on easily in New Mexico and only slightly less easily in Minnesota and Michigan, where Terri Lynn Land’s once-promising campaign seems to have flamed out.

South Dakota will be an easy Republican pick-up. Former Governor Mike Rounds is poised to win. It’s a three-way race, and some observers have speculated that, buoyed by an endorsement from the Sioux Falls Argus Leader, Independent Larry Pressler could actually come out ahead of Democrat Rick Weiland. Weiland has been running in second in the polls, so this could be a test of whether newspaper endorsements can still have a major impact.

Louisiana’s “jungle primary” system, where every candidate from every party appears on the ballot today and an outright win requires over 50% of the vote, means that race will not be decided tonight. There will be a run-off on December 6, and Republican Bill Cassidy will be favored to defeat incumbent Mary Landrieu in the run-off.

Kansas, where the Democratic candidate dropped out of the race to make way for independent candidate Greg Orman, has shaped up to be one of the tightest races of the night, and Orman has good shot at picking off incumbent Republican Pat Roberts.

Orman has promised to caucus with the majority party. If all of our projections hold, that means he’ll function as a liberal Republican (which is why there is no star on the map indicating a party switch in this race).

Colorado looks set to ditch incumbent Democrat Mark Udall in favor of Republican challenger Cory Gardner. The polls in Colorado have been wrong before — Republican Ken Buck had a lead comparable to Gardner’s in 2010 and still lost — but Gardner is a stronger candidate than Buck.


Montana is another easy Republican pick-up. Rep. Steve Daines has a commanding lead.

Iowa is closer, but Republican Joni Ernst looks poised to flip this Democrat-held open seat. Democrat Bruce Braley has been a comically bad candidate and trails in the well-regarded Des Moines Register poll.

Braley’s riposte: “You know the only poll that I’m counting on? It’s the poll right here in my gut.” That is the sort of thing candidates say when they’re about to lose.


The only Senate races that are on deck for this hour are safely Republican Idaho, safely Democratic Hawaii, and Oregon, where early hints of a competitive race turned out to be unfounded. Incumbent Democrat Jeff Merkley will win easily.


By this time of night, if all our predictions hold, Republicans will on track to take the Senate, but not quite there yet. Some races may still be too close to call, but if things are shaping up as we’re expecting, the GOP will have gained six seats, lost one to an independent, and be favored in two pending run-offs, one in a Republican held-seat and one in a Democratic-held seat. That gives Republicans 49 seats in the bag, and two more expected.

Alaska is likely to make it an even 50. Democratic incumbent Mark Begich trails Republican Dan Sullivan in most polls, and while polling in Alaska is unreliable, the skew is usually in the Democrats’ direction.

As long as Republicans win at least one of the run-offs — and they’re likely to win both, brining them to 52 seats — Greg Orman would caucus with the GOP under this scenario. And Senator Angus King, the independent from Maine who currently caucuses with Democrats, has suggested that he might also join the majority caucus if the chamber flips.

If we’re wrong, it’s more likely that we’ve been too pessimistic for the GOP than the reverse. Scenarios where Perdue wins outright in Georgia or Roberts hangs on in Kansas are more likely than, for example, Udall hanging on in Colorado. Some races may not be fully resolved by tomorrow, but a Republican Senate in January is a good bet.

What do you think?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Brittany Maynard galvanizes right-to-die efforts

Why libertarians should vote