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An expert’s preview of election night

November 6, 2016 at 2:00 PM EST
As this year's hard-fought presidential race enters its final days, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are campaigning for a path to the 270 electoral votes needed to take the White House. NewsHour Weekend Special Correspondent Jeff Greenfield offers a close look at the key results and trends to watch for, hour by hour.
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JEFF GREENFIELD: At 7 pm—we’re using Eastern Standard Time throughout—polls close in six states. Indiana–where running mate Mike Pence is Governor–will almost surely go for Donald Trump. But Indiana could tell us something important about later states…as Sean Trende, senior election analyst for Real Clear Politics, notes.

SEAN TRENDE: “That’s a state that Mitt Romney won by eleven points in 2012. So if Donald Trump is over that, if he’s up around 15, 16 per cent, maybe even approaching George W. Bush’s 20% win from 2004, then we’ll know we’ve got a race on our hands.”

JEFF GREENFIELD: Indiana is also the site of one of the key U-S Senate races: Democrats need to gain five senate seats to take control there, and when ex-Senator Evan Bayh decided to run for his old seat, it looked like a sure Democratic gain. But his post-Senate career as a lobbyist has brought him into a dead heat with Republican congressman Todd Young.

SEAN TRENDE: “If he’s losing, or if it’s tied, it would suggest real problems for Democratic Senate prospects.”

JEFF GREENFIELD: In Virginia, Clinton’s been well ahead in the polls, and her running mate, Senator Tim Kaine, is from there, and Obama won it twice. If Virginia is close, that’s a sign of real trouble for Clinton.

By contrast, if Clinton is close in Georgia, that’ll be a sign that her base — African-Americans and college-educated Whites—have turned out to vote.

JEFF GREENFIELD: At 7:30, polls close in three states—two of them especially critical for Trump. It’s endlessly said that no Republican has ever won the White House without Ohio, and this year its large white working class population seems to be leaning strongly to Trump. But Sean Trende says, watch the margins.

SEAN TRENDE: “If Donald Trump is winning Ohio by 4,5, even 6 points, then again we know we have a pretty good suspicion that not only is he doing what he needs to do, he’s doing a little bit better, and we are probably looking for some surprises as the later states close.”

JEFF GREENFIELD: North Carolina’s been a battleground in recent years—Obama won it by a point in 2008, lost it by two points in 2012. If Clinton wins here, it’s very hard to chart a path to the White House for Trump.

North Carolina is also the site of another key Senate race: two-term Republican Richard Burr is in an unexpectedly close race against Democratic former state legislator Deborah Ross.

8pm brings a flood poll closings — 16 states plus Washington, D-C. You may remember one of them—Florida— played a starring role back in 2000 as we waited a month to find out who’d be President.

This time, it’s a state that Clinton does not need—but if she were to win those 29 electoral votes, she’d be virtually assured victory.

JEFF GREENFIELD: Pennsylvania, on the other hand, is a state Clinton very much does need. For the last six elections, Pennsylvania has been for Republicans what Lucy’s football is to Charlie Brown—always out of reach.

DONALD TRUMP: “Everybody in Pennsylvania wants Trump, you know.”

JEFF GREENFIELD: Winning it for Trump would drive a big hole through the “blue wall” of solidly Democratic states.

SEAN TRENDE: “If Trump were to win Pennsylvania, it would suggest that he probably is going to win a bunch of other states that have similar or even less favorable demographics for the Democrats, like Wisconsin and Michigan.”

JEFF GREENFIELD: Pennsylvania also has one of those critical Senate battles, between Republican incumbent Pat Toomey and Democratic former state official Katie McGinty. With some $113 million spent, it is the most expensive Senate contest in the country. Trump is a major factor in this contest with Toomey keeping his distance and McGinty trying to tie him to Trump.

Besides being a presidential battleground too, new Hampshire has a key Senate race. First-term Senator Kelly Ayotte, is running for re-election against Democratic Governor Maggie Hassan; another key race where polls say it’s just about even.

JEFF GREENFIELD: And, surprisingly, in Missouri Republican Senator Roy Blunt—member of the state’s most powerful Republican family—is in a tough battle against Democratic Secretary of State Jason Kander, who vaulted into prominence with the single most talked about ad of the entire year.

JASON KANDER: I also believe in background checks so that terrorists can’t get their hands on one of these. I approve this message because I’d like to see Senator Blunt do this.

SEAN TRENDE: Blunt is an establishment guy running in an anti-establishment year…

JEFF GREENFIELD: At 9 pm, polls close in 13 more states. Michigan and Wisconsin—two states that are part of that Democratic “firewall” — have been special Trump targets.

SEAN TRENDE: Right now, the polls are showing Hillary Clinton pretty consistently in the lead. But again, if Trump is overperforming the polls, those states become very dicey, especially Wisconsin.

JEFF GREENFIELD: It’s a different demographic shift in states like Colorado and Arizona.

Increasing Latino turnout helped turn Colorado blue for Obama twice; Clinton is counting on it to stay blue. And she’s invested time and money in Arizona—a state that’s voted Democratic for president once in the last 64 years. A win for her could make up for any loss in one of those industrial Midwest states.

JEFF GREENFIELD: Democrats will be watching the Wisconsin Senate race very closely. They’re counting on ex-Senator Russ Feingold to win back the seat he lost to Republican Ron Johnson six years ago, but that race has lately turned very tight.

Once the 9pm states are called, we may also start to see what the new House of Representatives will look like. There are House Republicans in serious trouble in New York, New Jersey, Florida, and Illinois, among others places. Democrats need to net 30 seats to take control—an unlikely prospect—but we’ll start to know this hour whether the GOP is suffering minor, major, or no losses in the House of Representatives.

At 10 o’clock, polls close in 4 states—two of them “battlegrounds.” Democrats have won Iowa 5 of the last 6 times, but this state has been trending Trump’s way. And both campaigns have targeted Nevada, where early voting — and a growing Latino population — may favor Clinton.

Nevada’s the one state where a Democratic Senate seat is in danger. With Democratic leader Harry Reid retiring, Republican Congressman Joe Heck is running against the state’s Democratic former Attorney General, Catherine Cortez-Masto.

11 PM, six states close, and this is what we can say for sure: With California, Oregon, Washington state and Hawaii, there are 78 electoral votes that are certain for Clinton.

Trump can count on the 7 electoral votes from Idaho and North Dakota.

But will those 78 electoral votes be enough to put Clinton over the top?

That depends on what the vote count tells us in those earlier Eastern and Midwestern states.

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