Tuesday, November 07, 2000

A guide for watching returns

What to look for by the hour

By Chuck Raasch
Gannett News Service

        WASHINGTON — For armchair election watchers, winners and losers will start piling up early this evening, but the trends may not be known until most Americans are long asleep.

How electoral votes stack up
        Control of the House, Senate and the White House are more in play than in any election in a long time. Republicans have an eight-seat margin in the Senate and 13-seat margin in the House.

        For election-night watchers, there are leading indicators to watch for, from Tampa Bay to Green Bay to the Puget Sound. How these indicators go, so goes Election 2000.

        A spate of big states are likely to show their hand by about 9 p.m. The map seems to favor Republican George W. Bush when some Southern and Eastern states start reporting shortly after 7 p.m., but no clear trends may appear until the Midwest and some states in the Northeast come in an hour later.

        The race for the presidency is only part of the picture. More obscure elec tions for the House and big media extravaganzas, like the Hillary Rodham Clinton-Rick Lazio battle in New York's Senate race, will also help form the night's trend lines.

        A viewer's guide for serious Web and TV watchers::

        7 p.m. — Florida is the key in this hour. If it is tipping toward Vice President Al Gore, it could be the beginning of a long night for Texas Gov. George W. Bush. But if Mr. Bush is winning, it could be the first indication of a Bush presidency, and it may help propel Mr. Bush to an early big lead in the Electoral College that could put him over the top in the Plains

        and West hours later.

        Indiana and Kentucky, with some polls closing at 6 p.m., will report this hour. Both are expected to go to Mr. Bush.

        Polls close at 7 p.m. in Florida as well as Bush-leaning states of Virginia, South Carolina and Georgia, in tossup New Hampshire and in Gore-leaning Vermont.

        A number of key Senate races will be reporting this early hour, and the trend could foretell whether the Democrats have any chance of overtaking the GOP's 54 to 46 majority.

        Three House races in Florida will give an early hint about whether the Democrats have a realistic chance at a takeover.

        7:30 p.m. — Ohio, North Carolina and West Virginia polls close. The first two states lean to Mr. Bush, with West Virginia a tossup. Depending upon what is happening in Florida, Mr. Bush could have a significant Electoral College lead by this point.

        Surprisingly, West Virginia is a barometer state.

        If Democrats are going to take over the House, they cannot afford to lose an open seat in the state's 2nd District.

        8 p.m. — This hour should be more favorable to Mr. Gore. If it isn't, he's in trouble.

        Big Northeast states like Connecticut, New Jersey and Pennsylvania will start weighing in. Traditional Democratic strongholds of Maryland and Massachusetts, where Mr. Gore seems a lock, will be declared sometime this hour.

        Results from three Midwest swing states also will start coming in: Michigan, Illinois and Missouri.

        Whoever takes a majority of New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Illinois and Missouri, in all likelihood, will be the next president. If these races are too close to call at this hour, put on the coffeepot — it may be a long night.

        Mr. Bush's strength in the South also should start appearing. Polls close at 8 p.m. in Texas, Oklahoma, Alabama and Mississippi, and should deliver 56 electoral votes to Mr. Bush.

        This will be nail-biting time personally for Mr. Gore. He will find out whether he can hold onto his home state of Tennessee, said to be very close.

        The last presidential candidate to lose his home state was South Dakota's George McGovern in 1972.

        The Senate map will look clear er after 8 p.m. Tight races in Michigan, New Jersey and Delaware will report in. The strange situation in Missouri will start sorting out, where the late Gov. Mel Carnahan, killed in a plane crash last month, is still on the ballot against incumbent Republican John Ashcroft.

        8:30 p.m. — President Clinton's home state of Arkansas reports. If it goes to Mr. Gore, he's holding where he needs to. If Mr. Bush wins Arkansas, he may be on his way to a clear landslide.

        Arkansas also has a key House race.

        9 p.m. — The hour of truth for Hillary Clinton and Mr. Lazio. New York, expected to go heavily for Mr. Gore, closes its polls. The Senate race will be center stage, and polls show it very close.

        Swing states of Wisconsin, Minnesota and New Mexico also will start trickling in. They ostensibly could bring Mr. Bush or Mr. Gore to the cusp of victory, if not over the top.

        The fate of endangered Minnesota Sen. Rod Grams will be known this hour, making it clearer whether Democrats have any chance of taking the Senate.

        10 p.m. — A more Bush-friendly hour will include poll closings in Iowa, Montana, Utah, Nevada and Idaho. Iowa leans to Mr. Gore, the rest lean to Mr. Bush.

        Watch Montana. Its Senate race has become closer than anticipated.

        The lone House race in Montana is also up for grabs.

        11 p.m. — If things are unclear nationally when this hour arrives, they may be unclear for some time. That means a number of swing states in earlier time zones still are too close to call.

        California polls close; so do Oregon, Washington and Hawaii. Mr. Gore is favored in California, but the gap has closed. And if Mr. Bush is winning in Washington and Oregon, it likely means he has already won the presidency.

        This may be the hour we learn who controls the House. Four Republican districts are crucial in the Golden State.

        In Washington state, the final makeup of the Senate may be decided.

        Midnight — Alaska quits voting. Its three electoral votes are expected to be safely in Mr. Bush's column. If it's as close as some think it may be, Alaska may get lost in a swirl of too-close-to-call races in big states where polls will have been closed for hours.


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