7:30 p.m. in Ohio Auto country
There's something different to watch here this year beyond the usual Democratic, Republican and bellwether counties: auto country.
Traditionally Democratic, the counties around Youngstown and Toledo could be even more so this year, and that would be welcome news for Obama. If the president polls 60% or more there, he could win the state, says University of Akron political science professor David Cohen.
Perhaps most telling will be Lucas County, which Cohen calls "ground zero" of the latest Ohio flap: Romney's last-minute ad implying that Chrysler, which runs a Jeep plant in Toledo, will ship jobs to China.
The state that most often determines the presidency also has several key swing counties: Look to Lake County east of Cleveland, where Obama visited Saturday, as well as Canton-based Stark County, both of which usually pick the winners.
Obama won the male vote here in 2008, exit polls showed -- something he's unlikely to repeat, so he needs a healthy majority of women, Cohen says. He also needs to crush Romney by more than 2-to-1 in Cuyahoga County (Cleveland), while a strong showing by Romney in Hamilton County (Cincinnati) could indicate the state is going Republican.
North Carolina A turnout battle
The African-American vote in North Carolina gave Obama one of his two most unlikely victories in 2008 (Indiana was the other). The question this year: Will blacks turn out in sufficient numbers to do it again?
Most polls suggest not, giving Romney one of his only clear swing-state advantages. Still, gains among Latino voters, plus the Obama campaign's vaunted get-out-the-vote effort, could make things close.
"Electing a black president made history. Re-electing a black president isn't the same thing," says David Rohde, a political science professor at Duke University.
He will look to the state's heavily minority counties such as Durham, where Duke is based, for signs that turnout is as strong or weaker than it was in 2008, when turnout increased over previous years by more than any other state.
8 p.m. in Florida Late night ahead?
If the election is close in the Sunshine State, as it usually is, the most important votes won't show up in either candidate's column as the results are tabulated.
They are the provisional ballots, those that election officials must certify later, and their number is expected to grow this year because of rules relating to address changes. Historically, Democrats have been twice as likely to cast provisional ballots.
"All eyes are going to be on them," University of Florida political science professor Daniel Smith says of the provisional votes. "And all the lawyers' eyes are going to be on them."
About half the state's voters have cast early ballots, and those should be tabulated fairly quickly after the polls close. Watch Hillsborough County in the Tampa Bay area for a clue to the election, Smith says -- its ethnic and racial diversity tipped 53% of its voters for Obama in 2008.
New Hampshire Manchester is Key
The biggest city in the state closes its polls at 7 p.m., ahead of some others, and usually tallies results quickly. So shortly after all state polls close at 8 p.m., its results should be known.
Andy Smith, director of the University of New Hampshire Survey Center, says Obama needs at least 53% in Manchester to capture the state. Anything less could be overwhelmed by the small, rural counties that will report much later and tilt Romney's way. "Just watch Manchester. That's going to give you a really good idea," Smith says. "It sets the tone for the entire state."
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