Daniel Berrier of ElectoPundit also contributed to this Post.
Part 1: Introduction
This is actually quite simple: CenteredPolitics.com places 259 electoral votes safely in Barack Obama's column based on a fairly conservative reading of pre-election polling. This puts Obama just 11 electoral votes short of the 270 he needs to win and a gain of any one of the Eastern and Central time zone toss-up states would be enough to remove most of the doubt about the final election victor. In poll closing order, the toss up states are:
To be clear, John McCain needs all of these six states in his column to stay in contention and Obama just needs one of these states (even if he loses the other five) if all of the other states go as expected.
To get off of this scenario, McCain needs to prove the pollsters wrong in at least one major state and after pulling most of his campaign out of Michigan (17), he has pinned his hopes on 8:00 closing Pennsylvania (21). The signs of another unexpectedly bad night for Democrats would show up in early leads for McCain in Indiana and Virginia and in Florida where polls close for most voters at 7:00. The networks are likely to release vote counts as they come in from those counties although they are unlikely to call the state before polls close in the Central time zone counties in Florida's Panhandle. But mostly, it cannot be a good night for McCain unless Pennsylvania results fail to come in for Obama -- all night long.
There are three theories of this election to be proved or disproved heading into Election Night: Is the driving emotion in this race 1) anti-Republican, 2) anti-incumbent, or 3) anti-tax?
1) Anti-Republican: The Democrats believe that the public is so anti-George W. Bush that they will vote strongly against John McCain and Republicans at all levels. The pre-election polls lend a lot of support to this theory, and if they hold up, Republicans may be in for a real drubbing. Beyond the presidential race, the real test of this theory will be found in the 11 senate races where the Republican defending the seat is polling under 50%; New Hampshire, Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, Mississippi (B), Colorado, New Mexico, Minnesota, Oregon, Alaska and especially Kentucky where Democrats dream of returning the insult of Senate Minority Leader, Tom Daschle's 2004 defeat by defeating Senate Minority Leader, Mitch McConnell.
2) Anti-incumbent: One challenge to this theory lies in the Congressional approval ratings which recently have consistently polled even lower than those for President Bush. Republicans could hold down their net losses if anti-incumbent fever sweeps some Democratic Senators and Congressional Representatives out of office as well. Pre-election polling offers very little support for this theory as Mary Landrieu in Louisiana is the only incumbent Democratic Senator polling under 50%. Even if she loses it wouldn't be sufficient proof of this theory without some real Senate surprises in states where the pre-election polling suggests the incumbents are fairly safe like New Jersey or Oklahoma, and in the congressional races enough Democratic incumbent defeats to hold the net Republican loss under about 20 seats.
3) Anti-tax: The McCain theory of this election seems to be that the public's emotion is anti-tax and anti-government. The Joe the Plumber Tour has raised these as the greatest dangers of giving Democrats control of all three branches of government. Pre-election polling gives little support to this theory but that is why we have elections. If McCain is able to win in Pennsylvania and Ohio, then the theory will have proven its worth, and McCain may be on his way to possibly one of the greatest political upsets in American History.
The full Hour By Hour Guide to the Election Returns will be available at CenteredPolitics.com.