Canaries In The Coal Mine: Races To Watch Early On Election Night

on September 9, 2015 in Washington, DC.
<> on September 9, 2015 in Washington, DC.
November 6, 2018 11:44 a.m.

Happy Election Day! Voters of all stripes are anxiously awaiting election results. For those who can’t stand the suspense and are struggling in the calm before the storm, here are some early raindrops to keep an eye on.

The bad news: You’ll have to wait until after 6 p.m. ET to get any results in, and 7 p.m. before you can get a clearer sense of where things are heading.

The good news: The first few states where polls close have some big races to watch.

The first race we may know about is the closely watched battle between Rep. Andy Barr (R-KY) and former Marine fighter pilot Amy McGrath. Eastern Kentucky polls close at 6 p.m. EST. The Lexington-based district leans heavily Republican, but McGrath’s strong campaign has put it on the map, and her huge fundraising advantage has allowed her to weather an onslaught of attacks from GOP outside groups to keep the race close.

Strategists in both parties see a coin-flip race. If she’s winning, that’s a good sign Democrats will take the House. If she isn’t it could be a longer night, and though Democrats have plenty of other routes to the majority if she’s getting blown out that’s a bad sign.

An hour later comes Virginia, the entirety of Indiana and Georgia, all of which have crucial races, as well as parts of Florida with key House battles.

Virginia is especially important to watch in the battle for House control.

Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-VA) has trailed by wide margins in almost every public poll, and if Democrats aren’t beating her in an upscale suburban district outside Washington, D.C. that Hillary Clinton won by 10 points, something big has gone wrong for the party. Reps. Dave Brat (R-VA) and Scott Taylor (R-VA) are both in very close races.

While Democrats could still win the majority without either seat, if one or both of them go down that indicates that Democrats are performing strongly in normally GOP-leaning districts with lots of suburban territory and are more likely to be on pace for a House gain of at least 30 seats. Another race to watch is an open-seat contest in Virginia’s 5th district that strategists think leans slightly to the GOP. If Democrats are winning there as well, surf’s up.

Indiana is the first big Senate prize where results will start coming in. Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-IN) is in a tight race against businessman Mike Braun (R). If he’s losing in the Republican-heavy state that all but ends Democrats’ hopes of flipping the Senate. If he’s winning, that’s a sign that Democrats will likely minimize losses and potentially pick up Senate seats. If it’s by a comfortable margin, the blue wave might be bigger than expected.

Georgia’s polls also close at 7 p.m. ET. Former state House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams (D) and Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp (R) are in a tight race that may be headed to a recount. Keep an eye on Reps. Karen Handel (R-GA) and Rob Woodall (R-GA) as well. Handel famously beat Jon Ossoff in a special election and appeared safe until the race’s closing weeks. If Abrams has big suburban coattails and Handel is going down, that’s a sign of a pretty big night for Democrats. If Woodall is losing as well, that’s a very ominous sign for the GOP and a sign that Democrats may be on pace for a blowout in the House.

Florida also has a number of key House races. If Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-FL) is losing, the House is probably flipping. But if he’s winning and Democrats are blowing a seeming slam-dunk race in Florida’s open 27th seat, that’s a bad sign that might mean Republicans could hang onto the House.  If Democrats are winning an open seat in the Tampa Bay-area 15th district they’re probably winning the majority, and if Reps. Vern Buchanan (R-FL) and Brian Mast (R-FL) are going down the blue wave is a big one.

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