As 9:00 p.m. rolls around, enough states have been closed long enough that exit polls become less significant, and raw vote count becomes more significant. If the exit polls and early returns in the state had been clear enough, those states would have already been called. The question at this point in time is which if any of the contested states and races have been called. While enough states remain that technically nobody will have yet won the White House, or the majority in the Senate, or the majority in the House, it should be becoming clear whether it is simply a matter of waiting for the polls to close in “safe” states or if it is going to be a long night waiting for the last votes in a handful of states. While the race is not yet over, the next two hours should determine the winners.
9:00 p.m. (EST) — The remaining polls close in Michigan, Kansas, South Dakota, and Texas. Additionally, the polls close in Arizona, Colorado, Louisiana, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, Wisconsin, and Wyoming. Colorado and Wisconsin are the last of the “at risk” states that are part of Secretary Clinton’s easiest path to 270. Arizona and Nebraska 2 join Georgia, North Carolina, Ohio, and Maine 2 in the batch of electoral votes that Trump absolutely needs to get to 270.
Besides the presidential race, the key races during this hour are the Senate races in Arizona, Colorado, and Wisconsin. Arizona should be a hold for Republicans (unless Trump ends up being more of a drag on the Republican ticket than expected) and Colorado should be a hold for the Democrats. At various times, Wisconsin has looked like a likely pickup for Democrats, but some recent polling suggest that the race has tightened.
This hour is when the race for the House could get interesting. There are seven potentially at-risk Democratic house seats — Arizona 1, Minnesota 1, Minnesota 7, Minnesota 8, Nebraska 2, New York 3, New York 25. The Republicans hold four districts that the Democrats must win to get close to a majority — Colorado 6, New York 1, New York 19, and New York 22. Finally, the Republicans hold six at risk districts — Arizona 2, Colorado 3, Minnesota 3, New York 21, New York 23, and Wisconsin 8 — from which the Democrats need to win some to get a majority. By this time, the polls have closed in eleven of the seventeen districts that Democrats could lose and in forty of the fifty-one districts that Democrats could gain. As the vote counts start to come in for these districts, there should be a good indication of whether the Democrats are going to gain a small number of seats or have a shot at gaining a majority in the House.
10:00 p.m. (EST) — Polls close in Iowa, Montana, Nevada, and Utah. Polls close in the eastern parts of Idaho, North Dakota, and Oregon. Oregon is the only split state with the majority of its population in the western part of the state.
Iowa, Nevada, and Utah are the last three battleground states to close their polls. Utah is looking like a three-way race between Trump, Clinton, and Evan McMullin. By this time, the polls in the key states on the East Coast have been closed for two to three hours. We should know if any candidate has a clear win — Trump taking more than one of the firewall states, Clinton winning any of the toss-up states. Simply because of the size of California, it is unlikely that Clinton can clinch the presidency before 11:00 p.m. even if she wins all of the toss-up states. If Trump picks up enough states that Clinton is expected to win — Virginia, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, Colorado, New Hampshire, he could clinch before 11:00 p.m.
Nevada is the big senate race from this group. It is the one seat currently held by a Democrat that could change hands. Even more so than Arizona, Nevada should tell whether Trump’s anti-Hispanic platform has damaged the Republican Party.
Montana is probably the major governor’s race from this batch of states. While not doing well in national elections, Democrats have managed to win some state level races including currently holding the governor’s mansion.
For the House, the Democrats are hoping to pick up Iowa 1, Nevada 3, Nevada 4, and Utah 4. Iowa 3 and Montana are among the seats that could determine who ends up with the majority in the House. (There are thirty-two seats, including these two, that Real Clear Politics projects as leaning or likely Republican. If the Republicans win all of them, and the Democrats take all of the toss-ups or lean Democratic, the Republicans would have 224 seats. Thus the Democrats must win at least seven of these thirty-two seats to get a majority.)
As 11 p.m. approaches, most of the early states should be called. Which states are still outstanding will be key to the battles. If the lean Republican states (e.g. North Carolina, Ohio for President; North Carolina for Senate) are still too close to call, then the Democrats are in good shape. If the lean Democratic states (e.g., Pennsylvania, and New Hampshire) are still outstanding, it could be a long night. If either party has picked up one of the other party’s states, the races could effectively be over. (Clinton is probably in better shape than Trump. She needs to win either Nevada or New Hampshire or Florida or Ohio or North Carolina. Trump needs to win all of them and Maine 2 and Utah.) We should also be getting a good look at the battle for the House.