Midterm elections: 12 House races to watch to judge size of a GOP 'wave'

Midterm elections upon us, most observers expect Republicans to take over the House of Representatives, though projections vary widely as to how many seats they’ll gain, and a massive number of races – more than 100 – are close enough to go either way. The magic number Republicans need to gain to take control: 39.

So how can an Election Night observer get a sense of the big picture amid the many returns coming in? Rather than zeroing in on any individual race, look for trends in those expected to be closest. Here are a handful of races to keep an eye on in the states with early-closing polls.

1. Indiana's Ninth

Michael Conroy/AP/composite
Todd Young (l.) and Rep. Baron Hill appeared at a candidate forum in Jasper, Ind., on Oct. 13.

This is the quintessential swing race in a state with the earliest-closing polls. The polls have been extremely close, slightly favoring Republican challenger Todd Young over incumbent Democrat Baron Hill. If voters go for Mr. Young – and especially if he wins decisively – it’s a good first sign that Republicans are apt to have a good night.

The district itself is an odd amalgam of liberal (the university town of Bloomington) and conservative (the more rural and suburban areas), and Congressman Hill has done well in past years by leaning to the right. This time around, Young has attacked him heavily over his support for Obama programs like health care and the stimulus, and has accused him of favoring China over Indiana – a big concern for the one-third of voters who are blue-collar workers.

Also in Indiana: Keep an eye on Indiana's Second District, where Democratic Rep. Joe Donnelly has a slightly better shot at retaining his seat. If Mr. Donnelly loses as well, it’s a bad sign for Democrats going into the rest of the night.

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