In exactly five weeks from the moment I'm writing this, the Pennsylvania and Florida polls will have closed, and we might know who the next POTUS will be. If either candidate succeeds in winning both of those states, we can all either start celebrating or making those grim jokes about migration to Canada that arise every four years. Even if the big one is decided early, though, we won't know the outcome of Prop 8 aka Armageddon in California until late - probably really, really late on the East Coast.
So, if you, like me, are planning on spending election night with friends, I invite you to help come up with some creative party games befitting the occasion, to while away the hours before California returns come in. I thought it would be fun to identify a few down-ballot races that could prove telling as possible signs of a wave. I've already posted about the South Dakota abortion referendum, and of course there are other important initiatives or referenda on the ballot in states including Florida, Arizona, and Arkansas.
Following the jump is a list of candidate races, especially east of the Mississippi, that seem potentially important or just idiosyncratically interesting. Please add your own suggestions in comments.
New Hampshire - An early sign of a big Dem wave might come in the race between former Governor Jeanne Shaheen (D) and incumbent John Sununu. If she wins with a big margin of victory, that could signal a very good night for the Dems. If she loses, something has gone terribly, terribly wrong.
North Carolina - Incumbent Elizabeth Dole (R) is currently trailing challenger Kay Hagan, a state senator from the western part of the state. Obama is contesting NC very hard; it, together with Virginia, is his best chance of a southern breakthrough. The Dem ticket pairs an African-American man and a white woman for these two races; will Tar Heels split their votes or go solidly down a party line?
Minnesota - Think Al Franken in the Senate. Need I say more?
Oregon - Too bad for us East Coasters that this one's way out west because polls show it to be a cliffhanger, with Dem challenger Jeff Merkley now slightly ahead of incumbent Gordon Smith. Knocking off Smith will bring the Dems a lot closer to that magic number - 60 - needed to guarantee passage of any legislation through the traditionally moderating Senate.
Most House districts have been drawn so that their geographic boundaries encompass a constituency that is safely blue or red,so many are not really in play. Plus, I don't claim to know that much about all 435 of them. Here are a few where, if Obama's night is big enough, there might be surprises.
MINN 3 - Ashwin Madia has gotten lots of attention as a rising Dem star. He's an ex-Marine Corps lawyer and Iraq War vet who is strongly committed to overturning DADT. If Dems pick up lots of seats in the House, it will be because of candidates like Madia. See Michael Crawford's earlier post.
NC 11 - Heath Shuler, former pro football star and proud Blue Dog (conservative) Dem, was elected in 2006 from this normally dependably Republican district. He's an example of why it matters that the Dems control the House. Shuler is no progressive and can't be counted on for every vote, but he did vote for ENDA last year, and no Republican from this district ever would have. A victory for him shouldn't be a surprise, but the first re-election campaign is when a House member is most vulnerable, since the advantages of incumbency only grow with time. If there's a Dem wave happening, he should win re-election comfortably.
SC 1 - Linda Ketner, a businesswoman from Charleston, is a Victory Fund-endorsed candidate trying to unseat Republican Harry Brown to represent the Charleston-Myrtle Beach coastal strip in Congress. Tough but not impossible.
VA 10 - Judy Feder, a long-time and devoted advocate of universal health care, is making her second effort to take the seat away from Republican Frank Wolf. She came within 5 points last time, and Wolf is a tough opponent. But the Dems are very strong at the top of the ticket in Virginia this year, which should help her.
Anyone with suggestions of other races to watch?