5 Bellwether Races to Watch on Election Night

Nobody thinks it's going to be a very pleasant evening for Democrats, but how bad will it be on Tuesday night?

As Nathan Gonzales of The Rothenberg Political Report mentioned earlier today, we're "past the point" of talking about whether 2010 will be a so-called "wave" election year for Republicans. Every reputable elections predictor has Republicans gaingin at least 50 House seats, far more than the 39 they need to take over, along with between six and eight Senate seats. Click here for a roundup of predictions.

To get a sense of just how drastically the House and Senate will tip in the GOP's favor, here's a list of bellwether races to watch on Election Night.

Polls will close early in these races--they're all in Eastern, Midwestern, or Southern states where the polls close between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. ET.--so follow them early on for a sense of how things will go throughout the rest of the night. If networks declare GOP winners quickly (i.e., soon after polls close), then watch out. It's going to be a big night for Republicans.

Until then, the Final Countdown continues.

Rep. Joe Donnelly (D) vs. Jackie Walorski - Indiana District 2. Donnelly is a pro-gun, pro-life Democrat who came into Congress in 2006, as did so many who are facing tough re-election prospects this year. He's facing off against the Tea-Party-esque Walorski, a GOP recruit who did a respectable job fundraising and, at one point, had to soften her aggressive, Sarah-Palin-style tone.

Part of Donnelly's South Bend district is in the Central Time Zone, so returns will come in at 7 p.m. ET. Donnelly leads in this race by five percentage points, but he's polling under 50 percent, which, as a rule of thumb, is a troubling sign for an incumbent.

Rep. Ben Chandler (D) vs. Andy Barr - Kentucky District 6. Democrats have attacked Barr, a National Republican Congressional Committee "Young Gun" candidate, with TV ads calling him a "liar" and a "convicted...criminal" for pleading guilty to using a fake ID in Florida when he was 18 and failing to disclose this when applying for a government job. But perhaps it won't matter.

This is another district where a Democratic incumbent leads--in this case by four percentage points--but polls under 50 percent. Chandler faces a serious threat, and if voters really are as fed up as we're led to believe, Democrats may not be able to win close races across the country even if they've exploited their opponents' flaws and leveled successful attacks.

Richard Blumenthal vs. Linda McMahon - Connecticut Senate. It's less significant to talk about Senate bellwethers, and here's why: There are only a few competitive Senate races happening on Tuesday, and there's no shortage of polling on them. At this point, we know which races are close and who's supposed to win them. But the Connecticut race is worth looking at as an indicator.

When polls close in Connecticut at 8 p.m. ET, returns will have started coming in for competitive races in West Virginia and Kentucky. Other competitive races--in Nevada, California, Washington, Colorado, and Alaska, for instance--will turn in their results later.

Democrats are supposed to win this race, but if they don't, it's likely the GOP will win more than its share of Senate races Tuesday night. Blumenthal enjoys an 8-percentage-point in a Quinnipiac University poll released Monday, but that's down from a 12-point advantage a week before. McMahon, formerly the CEO of WWE, has spent over $40 million on this race, while Blumenthal has attacked her over the WWE's racy storylines and its problems with steroid use. Given that Democrats are supposed to hold onto this seat, it's a bad sign if McMahon comes close, signaling trouble even for Democrats thought to be in good shape. A McMahon victory give Republicans an outside shot at taking control of the Senate. If Blumenthal holds on for an easy win, it's a sign that things perhaps aren't so dire for the party.

Rep. Heath Shuler (D) vs. Jeff Miller - North Carolina District 11. Shuler was one of the Democratic darlings of 2006. A former NFL quarterback with immense popularity and name recognition in his home district in Western North Carolina, his victory was a sign that conservative Democrats could win in traditionally deep-red parts of the country.

Presented by

Chris Good is a political reporter for ABC News. He was previously an associate editor at The Atlantic and a reporter for The Hill.

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