Resident Democratic strategist Peter Feld has been telling Obama supporters not to get too cocky all during the campaign (a former Dukakis adviser, he knows a thing or two about how Democrats can blow elections). Tonight, he takes a look at the final round of polls and the voting schedule and concludes... well, we don't want to jinx anything, but if you're an Obama supporter, you might just want to be near a TV at 11 p.m. tomorrow night. 7 p.m.
The first polls will close in Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, South Carolina, Vermont and Virginia. Raw numbers will trickle in slowly, and the networks, burned in 2000 by their too-early Florida call, will resist the urge to tell viewers what they know. But watch those Indiana numbers. If Indiana - which, like Virginia, hasn't voted Democratic for president since 1964 - looks like it's going Obama's way, the suspense is over and I'll be ready to call it then. Results will start to come in at 7, but the networks will certainly hold off until 8pm, though, because the northeastern section of the state, near Gary, is close to Chicago and a certain Obama stronghold - turnout size being the key factor. By now, McCain's lead in Indiana is a narrow 1.4 point; two recent polls have it tied. Virginia looks strong for Obama - he's at 50 in three of four fresh polls, and Vermont is solid blue; the other 7pm states should be solid red. The count when those states come in: McCain 42 electoral votes, Obama 16. Not to worry. 7:30 p.m.
Polls close in Ohio, North Carolina and West Virginia. WV should be red; Obama holds a slight lead in Ohio and trails very slightly in North Carolina, but these are states it's almost impossible for a Republican to win without. If these results follow expectations, the count is now McCain 62, Obama 36. Don't panic - it's not shaping up to be a good night for McCain. 8 p.m.
Another 15 states plus DC close their polls. Of greatest interest will be Florida, Missouri, New Hampshire, and Pennsylvania. PA is a blue state by most lights. McCain has been targeting it, mainly to make up for his expected trouble in Virginia and North Carolina, but it's a Hail Mary pass: Obama has a healthy lead and is over 50 percent. McCain's better hope is Florida, where Obama leads but is below 50. Once these states are called, with Missouri going red and New Hampshire blue as polls now show, Obama has caught up, 136-133. Time for a reality check - we know how most of the others are going to come in. Big states like New York, California, the upper Midwest (MI, WI and MN) are blue; Texas, the remaining southern states and the inland west are red. If you add the 8pm states to the known slam-dunks, and the numbers come in as I've suggested, Obama now has 285 electoral votes and will be the next president. 9 p.m.
Still in doubt: only Iowa (likely Obama), Colorado (ditto), New Mexico and Nevada (true toss-ups). If Obama has underperformed these predictions (by losing New Hampshire, Ohio or Pennsylvania), he'll likely need all of them. CO and NM polls close at 9pm eastern; when Iowa and Nevada close at 10, all swing states will be closed. The networks probably won't call it until the polls have closed in states giving Obama the full 270 he needs. When will that come? At 8:30, Arkansas will come in for McCain, and at 9 another 14 states (including New York, Texas, Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin) close their polls. Only two of those, New Mexico and Colorado, will be in doubt, and the count will show a slight lead for Obama — 208 to 206 — if the predictions here hold. This will be an anxious hour if the election is close: only four more states come in at 10, two solid McCain (Montana and Utah) and two that may be slow to call (Iowa and Nevada). McCain pulls ahead, 214-208. 11 p.m.
So the nets will probably hold off till 11. At that hour, every state but Alaska will be in, including the solid blue West Coast. Even if the last four swing states — Colorado, New Mexico, Iowa and Nevada — are still in doubt (and Alaska likely for McCain), Obama has hit his magic number in states the networks will probably call very quickly, leading McCain 285-224. Expect speeches, hoopla, and (shortly thereafter) transformative change to the body politic.