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Guide to Election Night 2020

Well, it’s finally here: Election Day 2020, the one day every four years where it actually becomes somewhat “cool” to be a political junkie. This year, I have crafted this comprehensive Guide to Election Night 2020 to help both casual viewers as well as my fellow political science nerds know what races to keep their eye on as the night progresses. In an election cycle defined by new election procedures and uncertainty, I hope that my piece will serve as a helpful guidepost for viewers of all political stripes and levels of familiarity with this election.

I have broken down the night in chronological order, using the times at which all polling places in each state are scheduled to be closed. All polling numbers and odds cited are from FiveThirtyEight’s Election Forecast, a weighted aggregate of all major polling data. Additionally, states’ and districts’ partisan leans have been found using Cook Political Report’s Partisan Voter Index.

One note that viewers should be cognizant of this year is that some states report different types of vote totals at different times, which could present misleading initial figures. Keep in mind that 2020 polling has consistently shown that Republicans favor voting on Election Day itself, while Democrats have tended to prefer to vote early. In states like Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Michigan, in-person Election Day tallies will be released first, resulting in “red mirages” where President Trump appears to be crushing expectations in the early hours. Conversely, states that release early vote totals first, like Florida, North Carolina, Ohio, Iowa, and Arizona, could appear as “blue mirages” before Election Day results are tallied. As a whole, the key to correctly analyzing results this year will be patience. For more information on when each state will release its vote totals, this New York Times piece is a fantastic resource.

You can either read through this all-inclusive article in one sitting, or, more likely, use it as an hour-by-hour viewing guide throughout the night. The choice is yours! Regardless, my aim is to help enhance your Election Night experience this year by allowing you to be a more fully informed observer. Hope you all enjoy!

7:00 PM

All Polls Close In: GA, IN, KY, SC, VA, VT

The Presidential Race

Currently, in Georgia’s General election, Biden is slightly favored to win despite the state being reliably Republican since 1972.

Key Senate Races

As the earliest results of the night start rolling in, the first Senate race to watch will be in Georgia’s Senate Special Election where Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R) is being challenged by Rep. Doug Collins (R) as well as pastor Raphael Warnock (D). Currently, Warnock is slightly favored to win. Conversely, incumbent Sen. David Perdue (R) is slightly favored to be reelected in Georgia’s remaining Senate seat against challenger Jon Ossoff (D). In South Carolina, incumbent Sen. Lindsey Graham (R) is favored to win against Jaime Harrison (D). In Kentucky, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnel (R) is clearly favored to win against Amy McGrath (D).

Key House Races

The first congressional district of the night to watch results come out of is going to be GA-07. In that race, Rep. Rich McCormick (R) is currently neck-and-neck in the polls with former Marine fighter pilot Carolyn Bourdeaux (D), with McCormick pulling ahead at the moment.

In the nearby state of South Carolina, incumbent Rep. Joe Cunningham (D) is slightly favored to win against Nancy Mace (R) in SC-01. Before Cunningham’s election in 2018, South Carolina’s first congressional district was Republican since 1981.

In Indiana, it is a toss up for IN-05 between Victoria Spartz (R) and Christina Hale (D), despite Trump being clearly favored to win Indiana.

In the now blue state of Virginia, VA-05 is a toss up between Bob Good (R) and Cameron Webb (D). The former incumbent, Denver Riggleman (R), lost the primary to Good. VA-05 is the largest district in Virginia and is rated R+6 by Cook Political Report.

7:30 PM

All Polls Close In: NC, OH, WV

The Presidential Race

Currently, Biden is slightly favored to win North Carolina, though the state has voted Republican nine out of the past ten elections. The sole exception was when the state went for Obama in 2008. Additionally, while Trump won Ohio by 8% in 2016, the Buckeye State is currently rated as a toss up.

Key Senate Races

In North Carolina, incumbent Sen. Thom Tillis (R) is at a disadvantage against veteran and former state senator Cal Cunningham (D), as the Democrat is favored to win. Tillis’ chances likely ride on President Trump pulling off a win at the top of the ticket.

Key House Races

Back in 2018, Mark Harris (R) forfeited his win in the general election against energy executive and veteran Dan McCready (D) following voter fraud. In the following special election, incumbent Rep. Dan Bishop (R) won and is favored to be reelected in NC-09 against Cynthia Wallace (D).

Madison Cawthorn (R) is slated to be the youngest Representative in Congress at the age of 25. Running in NC-11 against Moe Davis (D), he is favored to win. In OH-01, incumbent Rep. Steve Chabot (R) is slightly favored to win against Kate Schroder (D). Chabot’s win will largely depend on the President’s performance in Ohio.

8:00 PM

All Polls Close In: AL, CT, DC, DE, FL, IL, MA, MD, ME, MO, MS, NH, NJ, OK, PA, RI, TN

The Presidential Race

Florida has been considered a key battleground state since 2000. Biden is now slightly favored to win the state, though Republicans are finding signs of hope in early vote totals from portions of the state. Pennsylvania has become the most controversial swing state in the hours leading up to Election Day, with some experts projecting that it could be the deciding state in a close race. Pennsylvania’s Attorney General Josh Shapiro issued a tweet predicting the President’s loss, stating that “If all the votes are added up in PA, Trump is going to lose.” Biden is currently favored to win Pennsylvania. In Maine, Biden is clearly favored to win statewide and is slightly favored to win in ME-02.

Key Senate Races

Biden’s projected lead in Maine places incumbent Sen. Susan Collins (R) at a strong disadvantage against Sara Gideon (D). Conversely, to the South, Tommy Tuberville (R) is expected to unseat incumbent Sen. Doug Jones (D) in Alabama. Tuberville is strongly favored to win.

Key House Races

In Florida, leading up to the election, FL-27 has received a lot of media coverage although incumbent Donna Shalala (D) is favored to win against Maria Elvira Salazar (R). Florida’s 27th congressional district encompasses Miami-Dade County.

North to New Jersey, incumbent Jeff Van Drew (R) is battling a tough reelection against Amy Kennedy (D). NJ-02 is rated a toss up. In a rare occurrence, Jeff Van Drew switched party lines from Democrat to Republican after House Democrats voted to impeach President Trump. PA-10 is also rated a toss up between incumbent Scott Perry (R) and Eugene DePasquale (D). In IL-13, incumbent Rodney Davis (R) is slightly favored against Betsy Dirksen Londrigan (D). Davis was first elected in 2013, and the district has been relatively competitive since. In Oklahoma, Stephanie Bice (R) is neck-and-neck with incumbent Kendra Horn (D). OK-05 is rated a toss up. North to Missouri, incumbent Rep. Ann Wagner (R) is slightly favored to win against Jill Schupp (D) in MO-02.

8:30 PM

All Polls Close In: AR

The Presidential Race

Since 1968, after Arkansas sided with third-party candidate George Wallace, the state has remained steadily Republican. Trump is very likely to win Arkansas.

Key House Races

As this next half-hour rolls through, Arkansas will close its polls statewide. Our attention will still largely be on other races, as the only remotely interesting race here is in AR-02. Here, Rep. French Hill (R) appears slightly favored to win re-election against his opponent Joyce Elliott (D). If this race ends up surprisingly close, things could get interesting. But until that point, keep your focus on the rest of the results rolling in from the polls that closed at 8:00.

9:00 PM

All Polls Close In: AZ, CO, KS, LA, MI, MN, ND, NE, NM, NY, SD, TX, WI, WY

The Presidential Race

Biden is slightly favored to win Arizona. Though, Arizona has long been a Republican stronghold. Though not as strong as in previous years, Texas has long been a Republican stronghold as well. Democrats are hopeful to turn the state blue but Trump is slightly favored to win. Despite the heavy campaigning in Michigan from Trump 2020, Biden is clearly favored in the rust belt state. Conversely, Trump is very likely to win Nebraska. Nebraska awards two electoral votes to the statewide winner and one to the winner of each congressional district. Biden is favored to win Nebraska Second Congressional District, NE-02.

Key Senate Races

Once considered a toss up, John Hickenlooper (D) is now favored to unseat incumbent Sen. Cory Gardner (R) in Colorado. In Arizona, astronaut and engineer Mark Kelly is favored to unseat incumbent Sen. Martha McSally who was elected as Arizona’s first female Senator in 2018. Similarly, incumbent Gary Peters (D) is favored to maintain his incumbency against John James (R) in Michigan. President Trump’s unfavorable status in Michigan is also a probable reason as to James’ unlikely win.

Key House Races

The 9:00 poll closings present another vast group of competitive House races to track. Again, it may be helpful to group some of these by state. In MN-01, incumbent Jim Hagedorn (R) is slightly favored to win against Dan Feehan (D). Republicans are hopeful for the outcome of NY-02, though incumbent Jackie Gordon (D) is slightly favored to win and maintain her incumbency against Andrew Garbarino (R). In NY-11, Max Rose (D) is slightly favored to defeat incumbent Rep. Nicole Malliotakis (R) who has served as Representative since 2013.

South to Texas, elections are closer than Republicans anticipated for such a historically red state. In TX-22, incumbent Troy Neils (R) is only slightly favored to maintain his incumbency against challenger Sri Kulkarni (D). However, there is a possibility of a Republican win in TX-24. In this open seat, Beth Van Duyne (R) is neck and neck with Candace Valenzuela (D).The race is classified as a toss up.

Despite Trump’s projected loss in Michigan, in MI-03, incumbent Peter Meijer (R) is slightly favored to win against Hillary Scholten (D). West to Nebraska, incumbent Don Bacon (R) is slightly favored to win against his challenger, Kara Eastman (D), in NE-02. Similarly, incumbent Rep. David Schweikart (R) is slightly favored to win against Hiral Tipirneni (D) in AZ-06.

10:00 PM

All Polls Close In: IA, MT, NV, UT

The Presidential Race

In Iowa, Trump is slightly favored to win. In 2016, Trump won Iowa by a 15 point swing compared to when Obama won in 2012 by 5.8%. However, Biden is favored to win Nevada.

Key Senate Races

In Iowa, the Senate follows Trump’s slight lead. Sen. Joni Ernst (R) is slightly favored to win against Theresa Greenfield (D). Ernst, a single mother and war veteran, was first elected in 2014. West to Montana, Sen. Steve Daines (R) is slightly favored to win against challenger Steve Bullock (D). Daines was formerly Montana’s At Large Representative from 2013 to 2015. Bullock is Governor of Montana, serving since 2013.

Key House Races

Republicans have an even stronger lead in Montana’s At Large race, MT-AL. The district is currently represented by Republican Greg Gianforte, who won a special election on May 25, 2017, to fill the vacancy created by Ryan Zinke's confirmation as U.S. Secretary of the Interior. Matt Rosendale (R) is favored to win against Kathleen Williams (D). Rosendale currently serves as Montana’s state auditor. Williams served in the nonpartisan Environmental Quality Council of the Montana Legislature. In 2017, Rep. Greg Gianforte (R) famously won this seat in a special election by 5.6% despite body-slamming a reporter the night before the election.

South to Utah, incumbent Rep. Ben McAdams (D) is slightly favored to win UT-04. Burgess Owens (R) is running a tough campaign against McAdams. Though Utah has been a generally Red state since 2000, the fourth congressional district encompasses Salt Lake City and nearby areas. In 2018, McAdams unseated Mia Love, who was the first Black woman elected as a Republican to Congress.

11:00 PM

All Polls Close In: CA, ID, OR, WA

Key House Races

In California, there are four elections to follow: CA-21, CA-25, CA-39, CA-48. In California’s 21st Congressional District, incumbent Rep. TJ Cox (D) is slightly favored to maintain his incumbency against challenger David Valadao (R). Valadao previously represented the district from 2013-2019. In California’s 25th Congressional District, the race is even more contested, rated as a toss up between Christy Smith (D) and incumbent Rep. Mike Garcia (R). The 25th district encompasses parts of LA and Ventura counties. Katie Hill (D) previously represented the district, and after her abrupt resignation, Garcia won the special election. In California’s 39th district, Rep. Gil Cisneros (D) is favored to win against Young Kim (R). Though, Kim’s campaign is receiving widespread popularity and coverage across the country. In 2018, Kim and Cisneros also battled to fill what was then an open seat. Kim was early announced to win by 3,900 on election night. But, after mail-in ballots were counted, Cisneros pulled ahead by 3.2 points, 7,611 votes. If Kim wins, she will be the first Korean-American woman in Congress. Finally, one last heated race is in California’s 48th district, where incumbent Rep. Harley Rouda (D) is slightly favored to win against challenger Michelle Steel (R).

So...Who Will Win?

If you have combed through the 2,000 words above, you must be wondering one simple question: who will win this election? While I wish I could give you a clear cut answer, it's just not that easy. Dozens of these key toss-up races are within the margin of error, and polling is always liable to be inaccurate.

Currently, FiveThirty Eight's Election Forecast predicts a 10% chance President Trump wins reelection. Furthermore, 270towin estimates Biden will receive 279 electoral votes, and Trump 163. But of course, anything can happen on Election Night - FiveThirtyEight also famously predicted in 2016 that Hillary Clinton had a 71.4% chance to win. You can fill in your own Presidential map here!

Additionally, FiveThirtyEight gives the edge to Democrats in both houses of Congress, projecting that the House has a 97% chance of remaining blue, and giving the Democrats a 75% chance to take control of the Senate. Be sure to use 270towin's House and Senate interactive map tools to create your own predictions!

Regardless of how the night goes, may we all take the results in stride, win or lose, and may all of you have an entertaining Election Night!

Author: Josh Kutner

The views expressed are the author's alone and are not an official statement of GWCRs

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