Bill Whalen

An Election-Night Viewing Guide

Some would argue that there’s no mystery to the outcome of Tuesday’s election – not that it’s a scientific assumption.

Every four years, for example, 7-Eleven sponsors a 7-Election – an outcome driven by the sale of red Republican and blue Democratic coffee cups. In the past two elections, these spots of coffee have been spot-on. In 2008, the 7-Election had it as 52% for Barack Obama. Actually tally: 52.9% for Obama. In 2004, the 7-Election had George W. Bush winning with 51% of the vote. Actual result: Bush 50.7%.

So what’s the 7-Election calling for 2012? It’s Obama, in a caffeinated landslide (59%-41%).

Another predictor: professional football – specifically, the “Redskins Rule”. In 17 of the last 18 presidential elections, dating back to 1940, the following has held true: if the Washington Redskins win their last home before the election, the party that controls the White House stays in power; the Redskins lose, so too does the incumbent party (the lone exception being 2004 – the Redskins lost to the Steelers; Bush beat Kerry).

On Sunday, the Redskins hosted the Carolina Panthers, putting the “rule” to its 2012 test. Final score: Panthers 21, Redskins 13. Advantage: Romney.

If you think all of this is nuts, I’ll give you one more: Mr. Nuts, the San Francisco Bay Area tuxedo cat who makes his predictions by choosing from one of two litter boxes – the losing candidate literally getting the business. Bad news for Mitt Romney: nature called, and Mr. Nuts called on the Romney-labeled litter box (an apt metaphor for the media coverage of Romney, no?)

If you’re not convinced by what all of his means and actually want to watch the election returns, here’s a viewing guide.

1)  Early-to-Mid-Afternoon: Conspiracy Time. Begin your Election Day with a different news medium – surfing the Internet, to see what’s up with the National Election Pool, a media consortium that does exit polling across the country, You might recall the controversy from the 2004 election: exit polls overstated the actual difference between Bush and Kerry by 6.5 points – in Kerry’s favor. See if, by mid-afternoon, there’s Internet buzz over funny numbers. That, and turn on MSNBC and Fox News to see if either side’s unusually exuberant.

2)  6 PM EST/3 PM PST: Polls Close in Indiana. The significance? Obama was the surprise winner here in 2008, carrying the state by 23,000 votes out of 2.7 million cast. That was helped in part by Obama spending 34 times more money that McCain on local television ($17 million to $500,000). That won’t happen again. This marks the beginning of Karl Rove’s “3-2-1” vision – Romney winning the presidency by picking up three states that Obama carried in 2008 (Indiana, North Carolina, Virginia), followed by two more Obama ‘08 conversions (Florida and Ohio), plus just one (Colorado, Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire) to reach 270 electoral votes.

3)  7 PM EST/4 PM PST: Polls Close in Florida/Virginia.The epicenter of the 2000 election and the subsequent recount fight, Florida might take a back seat in this contest to other swing states. Romney pulled ahead in the Sunshine State after the first debate and has stayed in front ever since. Virginia’s a different matter; both campaigns are competing in the Old Dominion to the last second. Also keep an eye on this state’s Senate race between Republican George Allen and Democrat Tim Kaine (they’re vying for the seat being vacated by Democrat Jim Webb).

4)  7:30 PM EST/4:30 PST: Polls Close in Ohio/North Carolina. Let’s start with the latter, which after Indiana is the blue state most likely to change colors on Election Night (Obama carried NC by less than 14,000 votes out 4.2 million cast in 2008). That takes us to Ohio, whose significance can’t be understated. The last presidential winner to lose Ohio was John F. Kennedy. No Republican has won the White House without an assist from the Buckeye State. Look to see who has the better ground game – Romney in the country; Obama in the Cincinnati and Cleveland areas. Two questions coming out of Ohio: can Romney get to 270 without Ohio’s 18 electoral votes; can Ohio count its vote on time, or send the election into chaos by making America wait for days as it tallies and verifies absentee and provisional ballots?

5)  8 PM EST/5 PM PDT: Polls Close in Maine/Massachusetts/Missouri/New Hampshire. Three of these states have something in common other than beginning with the letter “m”. Along with a fourth “m” state that votes deeper into the day – Montana – they’ll decide which party controls the U.S. Senate in 2013. Missouri should have been an easy pickup for Republicans. It didn’t turn out that way.  In Massachusetts, Democrat Elizabeth Warren could oust the Republican incumbent, Scott Brown, complicating the GOP’s plans for picking up four seats and majority control of the chamber. In Maine, a win by independent Angus King is a good as another GOP loss as he’d likely caucus with Democrats next year (oddly, that race has become a duel of dollars between Karl Rove and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg). As for New Hampshire, it went Republican in 2004, Democratic in 2004 and 2008, maybe it goes red again. Question: in a Romney presidency, is the family vacation home in Wolfeboro, N.H, or La Jolla, Calif., the new Summer White House?

6)  9 PM EST/6 PM PST. Polls Close in Colorado/Iowa. Nine electoral votes are up for grabs in Colorado, where the state’s Hispanic population is now 14% of the electorate and eighth largest in America). The wild cards here: pro-pot Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson and the pro-legalization Amendment 64, which could take away vote from Obama; plus, a crowded ballot featuring 16 presidential candidates on ballot. As for Iowa, Obama carried it by 9% in 2008. A sign that the Democrats are struggling in the heartland: Iowa and Ohio were campaign stops for a couple of Democratic rock stars: Bill Clinton and Bruce Springsteen.

7)  10 PM EST/7 PM PST: Polls Close in Nevada/Montana. By the time the votes are counted in the nail-biter race between Democratic Sen. Jon Tester and Rep. Denny Rehberg, the Senate could be a dead heat (the current balance is 51 D’s, 47 R’s, 2 independents). In battleground Nevada (6 electoral votes), political junkies have both a presidential contest and yet another crucial Senate race to watch. This is all about the ground game: Republicans are targeting 100,000-or-so “soft” Democrats and non-partisans who lean Romney. Another x-factor: Mormonism. LDS members make up about 7% of the state’s population; Romney needs a heavy turnout in a state seen leaning Obama.

8)  11 PM EST/8 PM PST. Polls Close in California. The first hour during which the networks can declare a presidential winner (it’s also a good hour to be a Democratic, as Obama will run the table on reliably-blue California, Oregon, Washington and Hawaii). What can we say about California, which doesn’t lack for drama of a non-presidential variety? Up is down and down is up, with the action down the ballot: the state’s 11 initiatives. By night’s end, you’ll have a better sense of where California voters stand on taxes (Propositions 30, 38 & 39), unions’ political influence (Prop 32) and crime laws (Props 34 & 36).

9)  1 AM EST/10 PM PST. Polls Close in Alaska Aleutians. Congratulations if you made it this far. The question: will we have a presidential winner by this hour? In 2004, it wasn’t until 11:34 a.m. (EST) the following morning that Bush crossed the 270 threshold. In 2000, Florida was called for Bush and the Texas governor was declared the national winner at 2:17 a.m. EST – only to have Florida retracted 101 minutes later, beginning the machinations that would take the election to the Supreme Court and its Dec. 9 Bush v. Gore decision.

Obama could lose the popular vote but win the electoral count. The same could happen for Romney. And, yes, an electoral tie remains a possibility. Or we might end up waiting a few hours, days, or weeks for an official verdict.

If only it were a simple as going to the litter box.

Follow Bill Whalen on Twitter: @hooverwhalen

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