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Your Guide to Election Night

Order a pizza and charge up your laptop battery - it could be a long night. The polls start closing at 6 pm Eastern in Kentucky, but it'll be hours until a clear picture emerges of the Senate, House, and governors' results. To make sense of the chaos, follow our hour-by-hour guide.*


5:30 p.m.: The quarantine on exit polls is lifted, so the numbers will start rolling in. You'll probably see leaked exit poll numbers earlier in the day on Drudge, Redstate, Kos, and other sites. Ignore them. The exit poll consortium reports in waves, and the first wave represents a fraction of the vote - usually the smallest fraction, and usually those folks who've voted early in the day. The first and even the second waves of exit poll numbers won't give the full picture for close races. For that, you'll have to wait until the polls close and the networks can combine the third-wave exit polls, for which sample sizes are more than 2000 voters, with data from individual precincts.


7:00 p.m.: Polls close in Florida. If Republicans pick up three or more of the following House seats - FL-02 (Allen Boyd), FL-08 (Alan Grayson), FL-24 (Suzanne Kosmas), and FL-22 (Ron Klein) - they're in great shape for the night and likely to take over the House, particularly if the margins of victory in these races are greater than a few percentage points.

Polls also close in Virginia, where Rep. Tom Perriello is one of the few vulnerable Democratic House members who is not backing down from his alliance with Obama. Democrats will be very interested to see how badly Perriello loses - and they do expect him to lose.


7:30 p.m.: Kentucky's polls close at 6 p.m., and the state counts votes pretty slowly. If the Senate race between Republican Rand Paul and Democrat Jack Conway remains close by 7:30, it means that plenty of Democrats turned out to vote, which means that they managed to prevent a major Republican wave in Kentucky. This would seriously jeopardize the GOP's chances of seizing control of the Senate. Recent polls, however, suggest such that Paul will win easily, leaving the question of Senate control dragging deeper into the night.

On the House front, polls close in North Carolina and Ohio at 7:30. Republicans need at least three pick-ups between the two states to get to their magic number of +39 and win control of the House; if they get more, they're probably looking at an overall gain of 50+ seats. Watch North Carolina's races, in particular: If Democratic Rep. Heath Shuler drops the ball, despite having kept the lead for most of his 11th district race, it will be a real sign of a Republican night.
 
And in Indiana, if Democrats Joe Donnelly and Baron Hill are shellacked, expect the same for their party at large.

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Marc Ambinder is an Atlantic contributing editor. He is also a senior contributor at Defense One, a contributing editor at GQ, and a regular contributor at The Week.

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