With election night just hours away, campaigns are executing the final steps of their strategies. There isn’t a lot that can change what is set in motion. When the polls close here are a few things to watch for.
First of all, Politico and the New York Times tend to have some of the best online election results. The Virginia State Board of Elections will have the most up-to-date Virginia results, with VPAP doing an engaging visual breakdown of the returns. Real Clear Politics tends to have an easy to see chart with all the results in one spot, though their results tend to lag.
While the country spans multiple time zones, the results out of the east coast should give a strong indicator of how the presidential race will go. The Trump path to victory requires a strong showing on the east coast.
Florida, North Carolina, Virginia, Ohio, Pennsylvania are all states to watch. To a lesser extent, so are Georgia, New Hampshire, and Maine. Trump can win Florida, North Carolina, and Ohio and still lose. He’s working to crack the rust belt with a win in Pennsylvania, or Michigan. They also believe they can win New Hampshire and do well in Maine. If returns there start looking good, it could be a long night for Clinton. Inversely, the Democrats have been working hard to put Georgia in play. If they are able to win either North Carolina or Georgia, Trump’s path to victory becomes almost impossible.
While we may have a good feel for the outcome of the presidential race early in the night, the question of how the independent candidates impacted the race will take time to develop. Gary Johnson is making a push in Arizona, New Mexico, and Colorado. While polls don’t have him ahead in any state his efforts in Colorado may be putting the state in play for Trump. Evan McMullin is working aggressively in Utah and making noise in Idaho and Wyoming. A couple weeks ago polls had him surging in Utah and he was on track to be the first third party candidate to win a state in 50 years. Will a third party candidate win a state, what percentages will they get overall? Has it all just been noise again?
Virginia may give us early clues about the strength of third party candidates. One of the most watched precincts in the country will be Lynchburg Precinct 302. It is where Liberty University votes. Will Jerry Falwell and the university’s bullish support for Trump succeed among young evangelicals? This precinct is a microcosm of the generational divide in the evangelical community. Will they vote for the party they grew up supporting, find a way to lodge a protest vote, or sit it out?
The other location to watch is Washington D.C. and Northern Virginia. These are areas where primary voters strongly supported Rubio and Kasich. Will “Beltway Insiders” lodge protest votes against Trump in a statistically noticeable way, or will party loyalty win out?
Speaking of Virginia, both sides seem to think states that were off the table a month ago are in play. Clinton was recently back in Michigan and will be finishing her campaign in Philadelphia. Trump is making a strong push in Virginia today. He has a rally in Loudoun and top surrogates were at a large conservative church in Prince William County this morning.
Historically Republicans need to win Loudoun and Prince William County and keep the margins down in Fairfax to win the state. In 2013, Mark Obenshain was almost able to create a new formula with higher support in the more rural portions of the state. If Trump is going to win Virginia he will need to follow the Obenshain formula. Early analysis of the Virginia absentee voting data shows a much stronger showing in Northern Virginia. Clinton’s team has been nervous about a lack of support from African American’s and millenials, while they work to offset those losses with an increase in Hispanic votes. The data indicates this may be happening. Is there a new Democrat formula post-Obama? Will Trump be able to turn out enough white working class voters in southwest and Southside Virginia to keep the state competitive?
Locally, will Democrat turnout in Fairfax enable the passage of a regressive meals tax? Can local candidates in Northern Virginia outperform Trump and by how much? VA-10 where the tireless Barbara Comstock is running for reelection as well as the Manassas Town Council races will be important to watch. Democrats are also making noise about a repeat of 2008 and winning VA-5. If that happens, Republicans could be looking at a very thin margin in the House.
Most importantly, be well stocked on food and beverages, and be prepared for not knowing the results till very late at night. Real Clear Politics has Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Colorado, and Nevada all within 3% in the presidential race. With similarly close Senate races, there is a good chance it will take a while before we know who controls the U.S. Senate or who wins the presidential election.