Prime-time primer: What to look for as results come in

Polls start closing at 7 p.m. EDT

There will be more than one way to measure the biggest loser in prime time Tuesday night - and we’re not talking weight loss.

People should be able to get a feel for how hard a hit the Democrats will take in the midterm elections even before TV shows like “The Biggest Loser” and “Dancing With the Stars” give way to East Coast election coverage deep into prime time. Westerners should have a sense for how things are going even before prime-time revs up there.

The biggest challenge may be managing information overload, given the many races and places where Democratic campaigns are in trouble.

Five states have polls that close at 7 p.m. EDT, and 16 more close by 8 p.m., featuring plenty of telling races in the East and Midwest. First up: Indiana, Kentucky, South Carolina, Georgia and Vermont, offering the first hard evidence of just how big a night it’s going to be for Republicans.

Not even their mothers expect Democrats to gain ground. It’s just a question of how many antacids they’re going to need to treat their heartburn.

A few early tip-offs:

If the GOP can unseat Democratic Rep. Baron P. Hill in Indiana’s always-contested 9th Congressional District, for example, that’s a good sign for Republicans trying to take control of the House. If Republicans can capture all three seats that are competitive in Indiana, that could well signal a GOP tsunami.

On the other hand, if Democrats hold their ground in Indiana and if their Senate candidate in Kentucky, Jack Conway, can upset Republican Rand Paul, it could be an early indication that GOP gains won’t be massive and that the “tea party” is serving weak brew.

House

In the House of Representatives, expectations have soared that Republicans will pick up the 40 additional seats they need to retake control of the House after four years of Democratic rule. It can’t be done without a strong start across the Midwest.

In Ohio, where polls close at 7:30 p.m., six Democrat-held seats are in jeopardy, some more than others. In Pennsylvania and Illinois, where polls close at 8 p.m., 10 more are at risk.

If Midwestern Democratic incumbents such as Reps. Joe Donnelly in Indiana and John Boccieri in Ohio fall, Republicans are likely headed for huge gains. Measure Democratic resilience if the party manages to hold on to a pair of imperiled Georgia seats, and if Rep. John M. Spratt Jr. can win a new term in South Carolina.

Worth watching in Florida: a rematch between Democratic Rep. Ron Klein and Republican Allen West. A loser two years ago, Mr. West now rides anti-incumbent sentiment and is easily outspending his opponent.

Even if Republicans demonstrate early strength Tuesday night, it will take time for them to lock in enough districts to ensure a GOP majority. That’s because the West Coast states of California, Washington and Oregon are home to 67 House districts. In 2006, it was 1 a.m. EDT before it became clear that control of the House had passed from Republicans to Democrats.

Senate

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