5 Bellwether Races to Watch on Election Night

As the first polls close, check these results as an indication of the final tallies

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.

Now Shuler is running away from his party leadership, about as hard as anyone. During a radio debate last week, he promised to challenge Nancy Pelosi for the Speaker's gavel if another viable alternative didn't arise. He voted yes on cap-and-trade, no on health care. If Shuler goes down when polls close at 7:30 p.m. ET, it's a sign that conservative Democrats won't be able to get away from associations with Speaker Pelosi and President Obama, no matter how hard they try.

Rep. Ron Klein (D) vs. Allen West - Florida District 22. The beachfront property in Boca Raton and Ft. Lauderdale will see a rematch from 2008, and, and it's been one of the most expensive House races in the country. Klein won soundly with 54.7 percent of the vote last time around--but on Tuesday, the Republican West could seal up a victory moments after polls close at 7 p.m ET.

Klein won the district away from the GOP in 2006, after redistricting helped Republicans hold onto it for a decade by nudging Miami-Dade voters out of the picture. After two reasonably convincing wins, it looked as if Klein would keep this strip of beach in Democratic hands for many years to come.

But after Klein outspent West dramatically in 2008, the Republican has come back with a vengeance, already spending over eight times his 2008 total as of two weeks ago. Klein has poured money in, too, outspending West $4.85 million to $4.38 million--and that doesn't count spending by both Democratic- and Republican-aligned groups, including American Crossroads. It usually only takes a million or two--and sometimes less--in direct campaign spending to win a House seat, depending on the location, but the dollars have been flying in Florida's 22nd. West led this race by 3 percent as of 10 days ago, so if Klein loses as that Sunshine State poll predicted, watch his margin of defeat--this district could showcase the impact of money attracted by Republicans in this optimistic year for them.

**Bellwether Bonus: Barney Frank.** Rep. Barney Frank (D), outspoken chairman of the Financial Services Committee and bogeyman to the right, should win easily. He's been safe for many years in his New Bedford, Massachusetts seat, and it's difficult to imagine him losing this time around to Republican challenger Sean Bielat--so difficult, in fact, that I will actually have to apologize to his spokesman for writing this. But some people are talking about a contest here. A local WPRI poll showed Frank polling just under 50 percent in a "tight race" 10 days ago--a 12-percent lead apparently qualifying as "tight." Given that Frank is probably going to win, and should win easily, the question is: Wow easy will it be? Keep an eye on the returns in Massachusetts' 4th District.

Bottom line: If Barney Frank finds himself in even a remotely close race when polls close at 8 p.m. ET, brace yourselves. Things will not look good for Democrats in close races out West. If Frank loses, Republicans will likely gain over 70 seats.