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What Battleground States And Senate Contests To Watch On Election Night


And here's our cheat sheet for election night. NPR political editor Domenico Montanaro and NPR congressional correspondent Susan Davis are here in the studio to tell us what we should be looking for as results start coming in. Hey there, guys.



CORNISH: So we have a lot of math to get through. The first number 270 - that is the number of electoral votes that a candidate needs to win. And the first polls close at 7 p.m. Eastern. So Domenico, I'm going to start with you. The states you're going to be watching early tonight are...

MONTANARO: Just a couple of hours now - so very exciting. Virginia and Georgia close in the 7 o'clock hour - two really key states in the electoral map, 7:30 North Carolina, a real key, Ohio another state that closes at 7:30. And by 8 o'clock, half the country will have finished voting, including places like Florida, New Hampshire and Pennsylvania.

CORNISH: So these are all states with kind of like a massive Electoral College grab bags, right?

MONTANARO: Absolutely. And, you know, these are places that are key to Hillary Clinton's hope to hold this blue wall of states that are leaning Democratic and leaning in her direction. For Donald Trump to be able to win, he's going to have to pick off some part of that blue wall. The Clinton campaign calls North Carolina in particular a roadblock state thinking that Donald Trump would have no path if he can't pick up North Carolina. And even if he did and won Florida and Ohio, he would still need one more. He'd need one more big state. That's why they've been focusing on Michigan in the final days. Both campaigns acknowledge that Clinton is up there, but not quite by the margins that Barack Obama was.

CORNISH: You talked about a blue wall for Hillary Clinton, but for Donald Trump is there some equivalence, some band of states that is helpful or is it a struggle this map?

MONTANARO: He is at a disadvantage when it comes to the electoral map. There have been 17 - 18 states that have gone Democratic in all six of the last presidential elections. And that adds up to 242 electoral votes right off the bat for Democrats. That's not that far off from 270.

CORNISH: Susan Davis, I want to talk to you about what a good night for Hillary Clinton would look like. What are the states that you think are key?

DAVIS: You know, look to states like Ohio and Florida. These are two states that Hillary Clinton does not need to win in her various past to 270. But they are must win for Donald Trump if he has a chance. So if she is winning one or both of those states then Hillary Clinton is having a particularly good night. Two other states to keep an eye on tonight that you might not always expect to be talking about in election night is Texas and Arizona. Now, these are two traditionally Republican states and Donald Trump is certainly favored to win both, but one of the big stories of this election is the Latino vote and the rise of the Latino vote. And we've seen early surges in that vote in early voting. And what the margins are in those two states are going to be very good indicators of what the future battleground states in this country look like.

CORNISH: I want to talk about those races down ballot especially Senate seats. Right now people believe that Republicans are likely to maintain control of the House, but the Senate Democrats need to pick up five Senate seats - or four if Hillary Clinton wins the presidential race to control the chambers - so Sue, which are the races that could determine which way the Senate will go?

DAVIS: Tonight, I am focused on what I call the core four - Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Missouri and North Carolina. All four of these states have Republican incumbent senators running for re-election, so they have that in common. And all four of these states show the candidates polling between three points or less going into election days, which means they are absolute toss-ups and too close to call. Democrats have been favored all year to pick up two seats in Illinois and Wisconsin. So those four seats are going to be the deciding factors over Republicans and whether they can hold their majority or not.

CORNISH: But any of them feel like surprises - right? - where you're kind of like watching?

DAVIS: Yeah, for sure. There always is, right? You know, so two I'm watching tonight - Indiana. This is a seat that Republicans hold currently, but former Democratic Senator Evan Bayh is trying to mount a comeback. Republicans have been able to wither his double-digit lead into to sort of a Republican lead. The Republican congressman Todd Young has the momentum going in. If they poll - if Democrats pick up that seat, they're having a very good night tonight. And in Florida, Marco Rubio is running for a second term. He's heavily favored to win despite that the polls show this polling very competitively. If Democratic Congressman Patrick Murphy were to win this race, it would be the biggest upset of 2016 in terms of congressional races.

CORNISH: Now, Domenico, we mentioned that the House is likely to stay in Republican hands. But, I mean, over the course of this election, people started to look at it - right? - all of a sudden say should we be paying attention here? What are the House races we should keep an eye on?

MONTANARO: Yeah, and everybody - nobody expects the Democrats could pick up the House. They need 30 seats to do so, more likely 10 to 15. But two of the bigger names tonight to watch Scott Garrett in New Jersey Republican incumbent. He landed in some hot water with Wall Street because of his opposition to gay rights, and he's running against a former Microsoft executive and a former Clinton speechwriter - man by name of Josh Gottheimer. And Darrell Issa in California is in some trouble. He's running against a former retired Marine colonel in Doug Applegate. And Darrell Issa who was the principal person in opposition to President Obama sent out a mailer this year with President Obama signing a bill that he had supported, so everything is upside down in this election.

CORNISH: Yeah. I think the president singled him out for that, right?

MONTANARO: He certainly did (laughter).

CORNISH: That's NPR's Domenico Montanaro and NPR's Susan Davis. Thank you both for talking with us. We'll check in later tonight.

DAVIS: Thanks, Audie.

MONTANARO: Always a pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Susan Davis is a congressional correspondent for NPR and a co-host of the NPR Politics Podcast. She has covered Congress, elections, and national politics since 2002 for publications including USA TODAY, The Wall Street Journal, National Journal and Roll Call. She appears regularly on television and radio outlets to discuss congressional and national politics, and she is a contributor on PBS's Washington Week with Robert Costa. She is a graduate of American University in Washington, D.C., and a Philadelphia native.
Domenico Montanaro is NPR's senior political editor/correspondent. Based in Washington, D.C., his work appears on air and online delivering analysis of the political climate in Washington and campaigns. He also helps edit political coverage.