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How To Watch The Midterms: An Hour-By-Hour Guide

Starting when the first polling places close at 6 p.m. Eastern, election night will be a whirlwind of tweets, numbers, emotions, speeches, pizza and live blogs. To see when polls close in each state, check out this map; to learn what to watch in each state, read the following hour-by-hour preview of key races (all times Eastern).

6 p.m.

Polls close in: most of Indiana, eastern Kentucky

As the first polls close, we’ll start to see results in two districts that could hold clues for how the rest of the night will unfold: the Kentucky 6th and Indiana 9th. The Kentucky 6th is rated1 as Toss-Up in the Classic version of our model. If Democratic challenger Amy McGrath is able to oust GOP Rep. Andy Barr, it will be an early sign of a Democratic wave, as the Kentucky 6th is about 10.5 points more Republican-leaning than the nation as a whole, according to FiveThirtyEight’s partisan lean metric.2 On the other hand, our model rates the Indiana 9th as Likely Republican, so if Democrat Liz Watson somehow pulls off an upset against Republican Rep. Trey Hollingsworth, it may point to a very long night for Republicans. The 6 p.m. poll-closing hour will also yield early returns in the Indiana U.S. Senate race, a seat that Democrats must hold in order to have any hope of capturing the Senate. Democratic Sen. Joe Donnelly currently has a 7 in 10 chance there.

7 p.m.

Polls close in: most of Florida, Georgia, the rest of Indiana, the rest of Kentucky, most towns in New Hampshire, South Carolina, Vermont, Virginia

Florida and Georgia are hosting two of the most interesting gubernatorial campaigns in the country this year; both races highlight the parties’ ideological divisions and have the potential to make history. Georgia is a Lean Republican race, according to our model, and there’s a chance that race may bleed into a December runoff if neither major-party candidate — Democrat and former state House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams or Republican Secretary of State Brian Kemp — can win 50 percent of the vote. But things look a little more straightforward in Florida. Our forecast gives Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum a 3 in 4 shot to become Florida’s first Democratic governor in 20 years and its first-ever black governor. Florida will also be the second state, after Indiana, to report results from a vulnerable Democrat-held U.S. Senate seat.

In the House, we’ll see results from districts like the Florida 27th and Virginia 10th, both of which look like easy pickup opportunities for Democrats. But if Republicans hold on to these seats, that may mean they have a shot at hanging on to the House. There are also several toss-up districts at stake, like the Florida 26th and Virginia 5th. If Democrats are able to flip these, they’ll be on track for a healthy House majority. And if Democrats can also pick off districts that lean Republican like the Virginia 2nd, they will be doing better than expected.

7:30 p.m.

Polls close in: North Carolina, Ohio, West Virginia

Democrats don’t have a lot of House targets here, but North Carolina and Ohio are two states where a blue tsunami could break open the Republican firewall; if that happens, look for likely-but-not-safe Republican districts like the North Carolina 2nd and Ohio 1st to fall. Former state Attorney General Richard Cordray also has a 55 percent shot of returning the Ohio governorship to the Democrats, who last held it in 2011.

By this point, we should hopefully be able to see a pattern emerging in the Senate. Like Donnelly in Indiana and Bill Nelson in Florida, Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia is a favorite in our model. If these three incumbents are all leading, Democrats should be able to avoid a disaster scenario for them. But if one or more of these three loses his re-election bid, it could signal a very good night for Republicans, who could increase their Senate majority.

8 p.m.

Polls close in: Alabama, Connecticut, Delaware, the rest of Florida, Illinois, most of Kansas, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, most of Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, the rest of New Hampshire, New Jersey, some counties in North Dakota, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, eastern South Dakota, most of Texas, Tennessee

If you manage to keep track of everything up to this point on election night, this is where it will all go to pot. These states contain dozens of House races, including four competitive races in New Jersey and eight plausible Democratic targets in Pennsylvania (which, remember, redrew its congressional map this year). Voting will also close in pure toss-ups like the Illinois 6th and Texas 7th.

The Senate could also be decided in this time block, with three of the four likeliest tipping-point states reporting results starting at 8 p.m. Two of the most vulnerable Democratic Senate incumbents, according to our model, reside in Missouri and North Dakota. If the numbers look good for Sens. Claire McCaskill and Heidi Heitkamp (who has just a 1 in 4 chance of winning), Democrats may have a shot at the Senate after all. We’ll also get our first glimpse at whether Democrats might pick up any Senate seats in Texas and Tennessee; the expectation is that both Republican Sen. Ted Cruz and Republican Rep. Marsha Blackburn will win by margins in the mid-single digits, so adjust your narratives accordingly.

Finally, the gubernatorial-results dam will break, too: Connecticut, Illinois, Kansas, Maine, Michigan, New Hampshire, Oklahoma and South Dakota are all potentially in play, although in every state but Kansas, our model has identified a clear favorite.

8:30 p.m.

Polls close in: Arkansas

Sorry, Razorbacks — we’re not expecting any super close races here. But there will be plenty of news from 8 p.m. that we’re still digesting.

9 p.m.

Polls close in: Arizona, Colorado, Louisiana, the rest of Kansas, the rest of Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, the rest of North Dakota, the rest of South Dakota, the rest of Texas, Wisconsin, Wyoming

My guess is that this is the hour when we’ll know if Democrats will win the House (or at the very least, if they’re on track to do so). Returns from districts like the Arizona 2nd, Colorado 6th, Minnesota 2nd and Minnesota 3rd will answer the question of whether Democrats were able to close the deal in their easiest pickup opportunities. And if Republicans are having a really bad night, pay attention to New York — as many as nine Empire State Republicans could be in trouble there.

For the Senate, all eyes will be on Arizona, where Rep. Kyrsten Sinema has a 3 in 5 chance of picking up a seat for Democrats. North Dakota and Texas will also close the last of their polls at this hour, which means networks will start making projections in those crucial races. And we’ll start seeing numbers from one of 2018’s most closely watched gubernatorial races, Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s re-election campaign in Wisconsin. Democratic state Superintendent Tony Evers is a 3 in 5 favorite there.

10 p.m.

Polls close in: southern Idaho, Iowa, Montana, Nevada, part of one county in Oregon, Utah

The battle for the Senate should conclude in the 10 p.m. hour as results from the last of the competitive Senate races come in. Montana’s Democratic Sen. Jon Tester has a 7 in 8 chance of winning, but if Republicans have swept the rest of the Senate map to this point, he may lose his re-election bid as well. Republican Sen. Dean Heller is neck and neck with Democratic Rep. Jacky Rosen in Nevada, so even if control of the Senate has already been decided, watch this race with interest to see what could happen in the chamber in 2020. Nevada is also host to a gubernatorial election that our model rates a Toss-up, and GOP Gov. Kim Reynolds of Iowa is essentially tied with her Democratic challenger in another race that could go either way.

In the House, this hour will bring a trio of Democratic pickup opportunities in the Iowa 1st, Iowa 3rd and Utah 4th. The fates of two controversial Republican congressmen — Greg Gianforte in Montana and Steve King in the Iowa 4th — will also be decided, but if they go down, it will probably only add to an already-large Democratic House majority.

11 p.m.

Polls close in: California, Hawaii, the rest of Idaho, the rest of Oregon, Washington

Other than a potential Republican upset of Gov. Kate Brown in Oregon, the focus in these states will be entirely on the House. Even if control of the House is decided without them, it will still be important to watch districts like the California 39th and 45th as test cases for whether well-heeled Republicans will vote for someone with a “D” next to their name (which our model thinks is a definite possibility in both districts). In a blue-wave scenario, look for Democrats to possibly topple Rep. Duncan Hunter in the California 50th and to take a handful of districts in Washington state. Just don’t expect any of this to be resolved on election night — California and Washington election results are often delayed for days because they allow people voting by mail to post their ballots as late as Election Day itself, which could be particularly vexing for election analysts if control of the House does, in fact, come down to these two states.

12-1 a.m.

Polls close in: Alaska

Polls in most of Alaska close at midnight Eastern, which is when we’ll start seeing results there, but the last few precincts don’t shut their doors until 1 a.m. Democrats could add one House seat to their total here. Our model currently rates Rep. Don Young’s race as Lean Republican but gives Democratic nominee Alyse Galvin a 1 in 3 chance of winning. Former state Sen. Mike Dunleavy also has a 7 in 10 chance of bagging Alaska’s governorship for the GOP. This race became more competitive at the last minute when independent Gov. Bill Walker dropped his re-election bid and threw his support to Democratic former Sen. Mark Begich.

Footnotes

  1. All forecast numbers are as of 8:15 p.m. Eastern time on Nov. 4.

  2. The average difference between how a state or district votes and how the country votes overall. In our new and improved formula, 2016 presidential election results are weighted 50 percent, 2012 presidential election results are weighted 25 percent and results from elections for the state legislature are weighted 25 percent.

Nathaniel Rakich is FiveThirtyEight’s elections analyst.

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