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

Polls start closing at 7 p.m. EDT

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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

It would take a true blowout for Republicans to pick up the 10 additional Senate seats they need for control. The first, in Indiana, should be easy: Republican Dan Coates is running well ahead in polls over his Democratic opponent, Rep. Brad Ellsworth. But if Mr. Paul can't keep Kentucky in the GOP column, it would be a sign of strength for Democrats and a symbolic setback for the tea party activists.

Republicans should have an easy time holding on to one of their own vacant seats in Ohio, where former Rep. Rob Portman is favored. But keep an eye on West Virginia, where Democratic Gov. Joe Manchin and Republican millionaire industrialist John Raese are tussling over the long-held seat of the late Sen. Robert C. Byrd, a Democrat.

Three-term Sen. Blanche Lincoln could be the first Senate Democratic incumbent to fall when polls close in Arkansas at 8:30 p.m.

Then there is a series of hard-fought races in the East and Midwest before polls close at 10 p.m. in the most closely watched race of the night: Republicans are out to defeat Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in Nevada, running against tea party favorite Sharron Angle.

Even if Republicans show huge strength, the nation still could go to sleep Tuesday night with unanswered questions about the makeup of the Senate: Polls don't close until 1 a.m. EDT in Alaska, where it could take days or weeks to determine the winner of a three-way race for the seat of Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski.

Governors

For all the focus on Congress, there will be plenty of suspense over how Republicans fare in governors mansions across the country.

South Carolina will offer an early measure: Republican Nikki Haley trailed for months before former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin's endorsement and a tea party surge helped her nail the GOP nomination. Now she's favored over Democratic state Sen. Vincent Sheheen.

Over the next few hours, results will roll in for the blue-state Northeast, where Democrats are facing tough GOP challenges in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, Maine and Connecticut. If Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick goes down in the liberal bastion of Massachusetts, it's a sign that the tea party fury over taxes and big government is spreading far and wide.

There's plenty of suspense in Florida, with an 8 p.m. poll close, in the battle between Republican businessman Rick Scott and Democrat Alex Sink, the state's chief financial officer.

Close contests are expected in late poll-closing states Oregon and Hawaii, and polls don't close until 11 p.m. in California, where billionaire businesswoman Meg Whitman and former Gov. Jerry Brown are vying to replace outgoing Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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