What to watch: Clues to who will win on Election Night
BY MARK MURRAY, NBC News
(NBC News) - As many as 10 races on Tuesday are viewed as toss-ups in the battle to determine control of the U.S. Senate. But by as early as 10:00 pm ET, we'll have a very good idea of how Election Night is breaking — if Republicans are on their way to netting the six Senate seats they need to win the upper chamber, or if Democrats are poised to hang on.
Here is your guide — by final poll-closing time — on the races to watch to see which political party is set up to have a good Election Night, and which one is in store for a rough evening. A reminder, however: It could be a long night in many of these close races and it's possible, maybe even likely, that control of the Senate won't be decided until runoffs in December or January.
7:00 pm ET Georgia: If the early indications are that Democrat Michelle Nunn is ahead or tied in her race against Republican David Perdue, it's likely that the race – at the very least – will be headed to a January 2015 runoff. But if Perdue is winning and is close to the 50 percent needed to avoid a runoff, that's a great sign for Republicans and a bad one for Democrats. An NBC/Marist poll released on Sunday showed Perdue leading Nunn among likely voters, 48 percent to 44 percent.
Kentucky: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is the favorite to win his race against Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes. An early lead — or win — by McConnell would suggest that Republicans are in strong shape, while a closer-than-expected contest would signal that Democrats are having a surprisingly strong night. The last NBC/Marist poll of Kentucky showed McConnell with a nine-point lead over Grimes, 50 percent to 41 percent.
7:30 pm ET North Carolina: This is arguably the most important early race to watch of the evening. If Sen. Kay Hagan, D-N.C., is ahead and wins, Democrats keep their path to holding control of the Senate.
But a loss by Hagan — and a win by GOP challenger Thom Tillis — would pretty much signal that Republicans are going to win the Senate. The most recent NBC/Marist poll showed it to be a tied race, but other polling has Hagan with a slight lead.
8:00 pm ET New Hampshire: If North Carolina is the most important state to watch early in the evening, then New Hampshire is No. 2. Signs that Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., is ahead and cruising to victory would be a VERY good sign for Democrats. Conversely, a tight race between Shaheen and Republican Scott Brown would be good news for the GOP. Like North Carolina, every scenario of Democrats holding on to the Senate assumes that Democrats win New Hampshire.
9:00 pm ET Colorado: Most — but not all — polling shows Republican challenger Cory Gardner with the lead over Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo. If that holds true later in the evening on Election Night, then Republicans would be on their way to winning statewide in a race that's been a problem for them since 2004. But if Udall is hanging on, Democrats would breathe a BIG sigh of relief.
10:00 pm ET Iowa: We've said it before, and we'll say it again: As Iowa goes, so goes control of the Senate. And if you want to see how Election Night is breaking, this race — between Democrat Bruce Braley and Republican Joni Ernst — is the one to watch.
A Des Moines Register poll on Saturday showed Ernst with a seven-point lead. But a Quinnipiac poll released on Monday had it dead even.
1:00 am ET Alaska: This is the state with the last final poll-closing time of the night, and it could be hours — if not days — until we determine the winner of the Senate contest between Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, and GOP challenger Dan Sullivan.