Campaign 2012 | Election Night Viewer's Guide

6:45 PM, Nov 6, 2012   |    comments
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You can't follow the election without a scorecard. As the polls close tonight, clues will emerge regarding the fortunes of President Obama and Republican Mitt Romney, as well as the battle for the Senate, the House and 11 governors' offices. 

Here, USA TODAY's Richard Wolf, Catalina Camia and Susan Davis provide a guide for what to watch as the returns come in. All times listed are Eastern. States are grouped based on the latest poll closings. States with multiple time zones or varied hours are marked with an asterisk.

7 p.m.
South Carolina

President: The state everyone will watch is Virginia, which could be one of the closest results in the nation. Obama captured almost 53% here in 2008, but Romney is given a better chance of winning the Old Dominion than John McCain. Romney probably needs it to have a chance of winning the White House. Indiana, which Obama stole from Republicans in 2008, is safely back in GOP hands.

Senate: Both Indiana and Virginia could go a long way toward determining whether Democrats or Republicans run the Senate next year. In Indiana, GOP state Treasurer Richard Mourdock's recent comments about rape and abortion didn't help in his race against Democratic Rep. Joe Donnelly. Mourdock defeated veteran Sen. Richard Lugar in the GOP primary. In Virginia, two ex-governors, Demo crat Tim Kaine, who also ran the Democratic National Committee, and former Republican senator George Allen are locked in a tight race for the seat of retiring Democrat Jim Webb.

House: Georgia Democratic Rep. John Barrow has managed to make a competitive bid to hold onto his 12th Congressional district that was redrawn to heavily favor Republicans. A Barrow victory against GOP state Rep. Lee Anderson means one less key opportunity for Republicans to grow their majority. The district includes Laurens, Wheeler and Treutlen counties.

Governors: Look for GOP Rep. Mike Pence to defeat Democrat John Gregg in Indiana. Pence is a national player with a strong following among social conservatives and a potential 2016 presidential contender. Republican Mitch Daniels could not run again because of term limits.

7:30 p.m.
North Carolina
West Virginia

President: Two prizes here, led by Ohio, perhaps the crown jewel of this and many a presidential race. Obama leads in Ohio, while Romney holds a slim lead in most polls in North Carolina. An Obama win in North Carolina would doom Romney's chances. A Romney win in Ohio could be bad news for the president, who spent more time there than in any other state, emphasizing his rescue of the auto industry.

Senate: Independent groups have been spending like crazy in Ohio's Senate race, which pits Democratic incumbent Sherrod Brown against GOP state Treasurer Josh Mandel. The liberal Brown has been the target of $30 million worth of TV and radio ads paid for by outside groups such as the Karl Rove-affiliated Crossroads GPS.

House: Republicans used the 2012 redistricting process to redraw North Carolina's congressional lines. Now they're favored to pick up at least three Democratic seats currently held by retiring Reps. Heath Shuler and Brad Miller and underdog Rep. Larry Kissell. Ohio is home to perhaps the most hotly contested U.S. House race in a redrawn district, pitting Democratic Rep. Betty Sutton against GOP Rep. Jim Renacci.

Governors: North Carolina may be the most likely state to flip control of the governor's mansion. Republican Pat McCrory, a former Charlotte mayor, is casting himself as a centrist in his race against Democratic Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton. McCrory would be the first Republican governor in North Carolina since 1988.

8 p.m.
District of Columbia
New Hampshire*
New Jersey
Rhode Island

President: Most polling places in Florida close at 7 p.m., but the western panhandle is on Central time, so results shouldn't be announced for another hour. Romney badly needs to win Florida to keep his chances alive, but the race remains close. New Hampshire also is close, while Obama has maintained a steady, but not insurmountable, lead in Pennsylvania, a state Republicans invested in at the last minute.

Senate: The marquee race in the nation is in Massachusetts, pitting moderate Republican Sen. Scott Brown, who captured the late Sen. Edward Kennedy's seat in 2010, against consumer rights advocate Elizabeth Warren, a darling of liberals who's already been touted as presidential timber. 

In neighboring Connecticut, Republican Linda McMahon has spent nearly $42 million of her own money against Democratic Rep. Chris Murphy. The former pro-wrestling executive, who lost a Senate race in 2010, has tried to appeal to women in the race to replace independent Joe Lieberman. 

The Missouri race between Democratic incumbent Claire McCaskill and Rep. Todd Akin has dominated the news because of the Republican's comments about "legitimate rape." McCaskill, once considered one of the most vulnerable Democrats, is now leading in statewide polls.

House: A member of the Kennedy family is likely to return to Congress from Massachusetts. Joseph Kennedy III, son of a former congressman and grandson of Robert Kennedy, is running against Republican Sean Bielat for the seat of retiring Democratic Rep. Barney Frank. In Illinois, Democrat Tammy Duckworth, a former top Veterans Affairs official who lost her legs in combat in Iraq, is challenging Tea Party freshman Rep. Joe Walsh in a redrawn district. And in Florida, Tea Party favorite GOP Rep. Allen West is in a bitter race against Democrat Patrick Murphy.

8:30 p.m.

House: When Democratic Rep. Mike Ross announced he wouldn't seek re-election this year, Democrats didn't even try to keep the seat. It has trended so conservative that Republican candidate Tom Cotton, a Harvard-educated Marine and Iraq veteran, is guaranteed victory. Ross' exit signals the dwindling ranks of Blue Dog Democrats -- a caucus of fiscally conservative Democrats who are disappearing in Congress.

9 p.m.

New Mexico
New York
South Dakota*

President: There are two close races and three at the margins here. The states to watch are Colorado, like Virginia a dead heat, and Wisconsin, where Paul Ryan's candidacy gives Romney an outside shot. If Romney can peel off Michigan or Minnesota, he'll have a good night. The same goes for Obama in Arizona, a state trending Democratic.

Senate: Several races could factor into the battle for Senate dominance. In Arizona, GOP Rep. Jeff Flake is in a surprisingly tight race against former U.S. surgeon general Richard Carmona, recruited by Obama to seek the seat of retiring Republican Sen. Jon Kyl. In Wisconsin, former governor and U.S. Health and Human Services secretary Tommy Thompson is seeking to replace Democratic Sen. Herb Kohl in a comeback against Democratic Rep. Tammy Baldwin.

House: In Arizona, Democratic Rep. Ron Barber, a former aide to Gabrielle Giffords, who was injured in a 2011 shooting that nearly claimed her life, is running in a close race against former combat pilot Martha McSally, who has compared herself to the former congresswoman. In Michigan, reindeer farmer and Santa Claus impersonator Republican Kerry Bentivolio is in a surprisingly good place to win the Republican-leaning 11th District, thrown into disarray when GOP Rep. Thaddeus McCotter abruptly resigned over a ballot petition scandal. 

In Minnesota, firebrand GOP Rep. and former presidential candidate Michele Bachmann goes against political newcomer Jim Graves, the strongest opponent she's ever faced.

10 p.m.


President:The last two swing states to close their polls could play a big role in determining the next president. Obama has held on to small leads in Iowa and Nevada, but Romney has fought hard for both. If the race hasn't been all but decided by now, these two states could hold the key to the White House.

Senate: Nevada Sen. Dean Heller, who was appointed to the seat last year, says his political fortunes are tied to Romney's in the Silver State, where Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid is helping his home-state colleague, Rep. Shelley Berkley. The same could be true for Republican Rep. Denny Rehberg, who's challenging first-term Democratic Sen. Jon Tester in Montana. Both races are critical for Republicans' uphill chances of taking over the Senate.

House: In Utah, one of the GOP's most trumpeted 2012 candidates, Mia Love, is taking on Democratic Rep. Jim Matheson. Love was given a high-profile speaking gig at the Republican National Convention this year, in part because she'd make history as the first black Republican woman elected to the U.S. House. In Iowa, Democratic candidate Christie Vilsack, wife of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, is making a spirited effort to oust Rep. Steve King, a popular figure among Tea Party conservatives nationally. Polls show the race close, but the seat leans in favor of King.

11 p.m.
North Dakota*

Senate: Republicans have long hoped to pick up the seat of retiring Sen. Kent Conrad in North Dakota, but Rep. Rick Berg hasn't totally pulled away from former state attorney general Heidi Heitkamp. In Hawaii, Democrat Mazie Hirono is the favorite to succeed retiring senator Daniel Inouye. She's running against Republican Linda Lingle, a former governor, in Obama's native state.

House: Long a sleepy state for competitive U.S. House races, California has a handful of hotly contested races after a non-partisan redistricting commission redrew the lines for 2012. The most talked about race is the battle between incumbent Democratic Reps. Brad Sherman and Howard Berman, which has divided the party.

Governors: In Washington, former Democratic representative Jay Inslee and GOP state Attorney General Rob McKenna are vying to succeed Democrat Chris Gregoire, who decided not to run again.

1 a.m.


House: Rep. Don Young, the second-longest serving Republican in the House, is poised to win re-election to his at-large Alaska seat. Young ruffled some GOP feathers earlier this year when he endorsed Hirono in Hawaii's Senate Democratic primary. The support is a testament to the enduring partnership in Congress between America's two non-contiguous states.

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