Okay, maybe I don’t know with 100 percent certainty, but I’ve taken an educated guess on how the night is going to play out. Since every state chooses its own polling hours, results are going to be announced like a rolling blackout. A few states this hour, a few states the next hour, some too close to call, but many will be called for a candidate almost immediately. Yes, I’m looking at you, Indiana. I already know when the polls close at 7 p.m., at 7:01 p.m. Brian Williams will announce Indiana’s going to Romney. I’m telling you right now that’s going to happen.
While the Hoosier State is an easy one, a handful of the swingingest swing states refuse to go so quietly into that good night. Ohio’s the crown jewel (again), but don’t discount the importance of Florida, Virginia, Iowa, Colorado and Nevada. They plan to keep everyone awake into the wee hours.
Because many of you are too busy to watch the coverage all night, I’ve already got it all figured out. For those of you who want to be surprised, stop reading now. For the rest of you, go ahead and read on. I’m telling you what’s going to happen every hour, on the hour (and sometimes on the half-hour):
7 p.m. EST
Polls are closing in six states: Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, South Carolina, Vermont and Virginia. With the exception of Virginia, I expect networks to call the race in five of those states at 7:01 p.m. and Romney will be leading 44 – 3.
7:30 p.m. EST
Three more states are done voting: North Carolina, West Virginia and the all-important Ohio. Romney should claim 20 more electoral votes shortly thereafter, giving him a 64 – 3 edge. But don’t pop those champagne corks just yet. Ohio is the linchpin for both candidates. Romney needs it. Obama would have a huge advantage if he gets it (and current polling is leaning that way), but it’s still to close to call.
8 p.m. EST
This is the hour when Election Night goes into a higher gear, as 172 electoral votes start getting counted. Polls close in 17 states—pretty much the entire Northeast—and Obama starts narrowing the gap by claiming this round of votes decisively. Romney will claim victories in a few Southern states, but his lead will narrow to 107 – 103. The one state that will not be called just yet is our old friend, Florida. Who knows when those 29 votes will be called. I expect the Sunshine State to tilt red, but it’s too close to call.
8:30 p.m. EST
Arkansas polls close and fall easily into the Romney column, where he will extend his lead a bit to 113 – 103.
9 p.m. EST
Another heavy hour for both candidates with 147 more electoral votes being claimed. New York and its 29 votes going to Obama. But Romney counterpunches with Texas’ 38 electoral votes. Key Midwest states Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin all go to Obama while Romney nabs Arizona, Louisiana, Nebraska, South Dakota and Wyoming. Colorado’s polls close, but it’s too close to call. Overall, Obama edges Romney in this round, but still trails 181 – 173.
10 p.m. EST
Call this the calm before the storm. Five states for a total of 27 electoral votes are closing and Romney grabs three of them: Kansas, Montana and Utah. Iowa and Nevada are currently leaning blue, but a bit too close to call just now. Romney wins the round and extends his lead to 196 – 173.
11 p.m. EST
For the challenger Romney, 10 p.m. was his final surge. With California and its 55 electoral votes anchoring the closing polls at 11 p.m., Obama is poised to claim the electoral lead. He also grabs Hawaii, Oregon and Washington. Romney will get Idaho and North Dakota, but nothing else until 1 a.m. when Alaska’s polls close. Obama wins the round convincingly. Barring any of the aforementioned swing states being called for a candidate, Obama will lead Romney 251 – 203.
1 a.m. EST
It may or may not even matter by this point, but Romney will get Alaska’s three votes, bringing up his total to 206. His numbers could increase if he gets Florida (which I think he will).
Swing State Bingo
It takes 270 electoral votes to win the presidency. If my projections remain constant—and I think they will—Obama has the clearer path to victory. But all it takes is one or two states to flip from blue to red and everything changes. I’m projecting New Hampshire for Obama, but it’s within the margins. Pennsylvania’s been tightening the past few days. If Romney can flip a traditionally blue state to his camp, it would completely change the picture for Obama.
On that same turn, if Obama snatches Florida away from Romney—which I don’t see happening—it would be a death blow to the challenger.
Yes, anything can happen on Election Night. But I still think this hourly tick-tock is closer to accurate than not.
We’ll recap in a couple days. Don’t forget to vote.