Six things to watch on election night

Election Day is finally here, and for viewers at home – on TV or on the Web – there's plenty to watch. Here's a guide.

Cheryl Senter/AP
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D) of New Hampshire (r.) votes with her grandson, AJ Bellabona, by her side at the Town Hall in Madbury, N.H., on Tuesday. Senator Shaheen, a Democrat seeking a second term, faces Republican Scott Brown, who moved to New Hampshire last year after losing his US Senate seat in Massachusetts.
Gerry Broome/AP
Stickers await voters after they cast their votes on Election Day at Glenwood Center in Greensboro, N.C., Tuesday, Nov. 4, 2014.

Election Day is here at last. Now all that’s left to do is go out and vote – if you haven’t already – and then make a bowl of popcorn and watch the returns.

Here’s a list of things to watch for on election night:

North Carolina and New Hampshire. Both states’ polls have early closing times: North Carolina at 7:30 p.m. ET and New Hampshire at 8:00 p.m. ET. If the Democratic incumbent senators lose in both states – Kay Hagan in North Carolina and Jeanne Shaheen in New Hampshire – then it’s going to be a long night for the Democrats. They will certainly lose control of the Senate. Even the loss of just one of those seats would almost certainly spell the end of the Democratic majority.

The vote margin in the New Hampshire Senate race. If Senator Shaheen barely holds on against former Sen. Scott Brown (R), that, too, probably tells us that the Democratic Senate majority is toast. Shaheen has lived in New Hampshire for four decades and held statewide office there for 12 years – six as governor, six as senator. Mr. Brown, a former senator from Massachusetts, switched his residency to run against Shaheen.

In addition, the latest Granite State poll shows Shaheen’s favorability rating among New Hampshire voters (48 percent) is well above Brown’s (36 percent). If Shaheen loses anyway, that’s a slap at the Democratic brand.

Clues about 2016. Four of the close Senate races – New Hampshire, North Carolina, Iowa, and Colorado – are in presidential battleground states. If Republicans win even some of those races, that tells the Democrats they have work to do to keep those in the Democratic column in 2016.

The midterm electorate tends to be whiter and older than voters in presidential races, but Democrats can’t rest on past performance when 2016 rolls around.

Georgia as bellwether for Republicans. If either of the two big-name Democrats in this state even comes close to winning for Senate or governor, that’s a warning sign for Georgia Republicans. Democrats have been eyeing Georgia as the “next North Carolina” – a Southern state with growing populations of minorities and transplants from the North who are shifting the electoral makeup of the state. North Carolina voted for Barack Obama in 2008 (but not in 2012) after voting Republican in presidential contests for 32 years.

Democrat Michelle Nunn (daughter of former Sen. Sam Nunn) is running for the Senate, and Democrat Jason Carter (grandson of former President Jimmy Carter) is running for governor. Both races are close: One or both will go to a runoff if the top finisher(s) on Tuesday do not win a majority. The Senate runoff would be Jan. 6, and the gubernatorial runoff Dec. 2.

House seats to watch. Democrats in presidential battleground states could lose some House seats previously seen as safe. Nevada and Iowa provide two examples. In Nevada, freshman Rep. Steve Horsford (D) is in trouble. In Iowa, the seat being vacated by Senate candidate Bruce Braley (D) could also go Republican. Presidential-year electorates are different from midterm elections', but losing safe seats would still be a worrisome sign for Democrats. 

Florida's tossup gubernatorial race. This one matters all on its own. Florida is the largest presidential battleground state, and whoever wins the governor’s race on Tuesday will hold key levers of power in 2016. For starters, the governor appoints the secretary of State, an important job in election administration (see Bush v. Gore).

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