My most exciting presidential election night was the only election night where I worked as a professional reporter.
It was the election of 1980, and I was working for the Toledo Blade. There were a bunch of races that year, topped by the contest between Ronald Reagan and President Jimmy Carter. Polling was primitive by modern standards, and many people were confident that President Carter would win his race against an aging Republican whom many reporters considered a bit of a buffoon. But Reagan won, and won big. It was an exciting night because it was a huge surprise.
I remember sitting in the Blade newsroom, watching a cheap black-and-white TV as the networks reported the national results. The reporters gaped at the results, slack-jawed and stunned. It wasn’t so much Reagan’s victory — nobody cared much for Jimmy Carter — but his coattails that were a stunner. Many liberal lions in the United States Senate went down to a surprising defeat, and Toledo’s long-time Democratic Congressman lost, astonishingly, to an upstart Republican.
Our world was turned on its axis, and suddenly a candidate whom many people had confidently dismissed was the President-elect, coming in to office with a slew of new Senators and Representatives ready to shake things up in Washington. America had decided to change direction, abruptly and amazingly.
We’ve been channel-surfing tonight on this Election Night, flipping between CNN, MSNBC, and Fox.
All of the stations feature pundits, of course, but CNN seems to have an unworkably large number of them. Good Lord! It’s unbearable! How many are there, anyway? They seem to be rotating them in and out, like they are players on a hockey team running two-minute shifts.
I suppose pundits are unavoidable on election nights, but can’t the media outlets pick just one or two whom they think actually have something meaningful to say and just stick with them?
Let’s say you want to celebrate the end of this seemingly interminable mid-term campaign tomorrow night with an adult beverage. You want to plop yourself down in front of the TV and watch the returns to see if your team is going to win. You want to know whether the Democrats will hold on to the House and Senate, or whether discontent with the status quo will bring a “wave election” that sweeps Republicans to power. But with so many congressional seats up for grabs, how will you know which team is doing well and which isn’t?
The New York Times‘ 538 blog has posted an excellent hour-by-hour guide that tracks key races based on the hours in which the polls close in various states. The guide also tries to predict whether, based on the results, there is evidence of a big Republican wave. So, for example, the polls will close at 6 p.m. in Indiana and Kentucky. If you are following the Democrats, you will look to see whether they can win the seats in Indiana’s districts 8 and 9. If you are hoping to detect a Republican tide, you’ll check out Kentucky district 3, to see whether the Republican candidate who has been trailing the incumbent has been lifted to victory.
In Ohio, where the polls close at 7:30, the guide lists several races that might indicates broader national trends. For Democrats hoping to hang on to the House of Representatives, it is the 15th, where the polls indicate that incumbent Democrat Mary Jo Kilroy trails Republican challenger Steve Stivers. For Republicans looking for a big night, it will be Ohio 18, a district just to the east of us, where incumbent Democrat Zach Space is trying to fend of Republican Bob Gibbs.
Our endless electoral campaigns are a pain, but election night TV-watching can be fun — like watching a bunch of football games to see whether you did well in the office pool.