2018 election viewer’s guide: Your cheat sheet for acing the midterms

After months of primaries, debates, positioning ads, attack ads, closing ads and the occasional federal indictment, the 2018 midterm elections will come to a close on Tuesday night — except for the races that will be decided by absentee ballots, go into recounts, or require a second-round runoff to determine a final winner. As the votes are counted, the immediate future of the country will be decided: Who will control Congress, and how will the policies they enact affect Americans? Will ballot initiatives legalize weed, bolster voting rights, eliminate gerrymandering and/or expand Medicaid? Can Democrats recover from years of losses at the state level, or will Republicans hold on to power in Capitol buildings across the nation?

What follows is a guide of races to watch as the night rolls on — hour-by-hour indicators of what might be happening in the House (where Democrats are projected to have a good chance of taking control), the Senate (which Republicans are projected to have an equally good chance of retaining) and at the state level. You’ll see this general theme play out a lot overnight: Vulnerable Senate Democrats trying to hold on to their seats, and dozens of House Republicans scrambling to escape a potential blue wave.

As in every election, bear in mind that the early returns in some races may be lopsided, depending on which areas count their ballots first. Unless you’re familiar with the precinct-level voting history of a particular district, don’t put too much weight on those early numbers. News organizations will call races when the outcome is statistically settled. Yahoo News will call races based on projections by the Associated Press.

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Candidates casting their votes during the 2018 midterm election
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Candidates casting their votes during the 2018 midterm election
Democratic candidate Christine Hallquist votes during the midterm election in Hyde Park, Vermont, U.S. November 6, 2018. REUTERS/Caleb Kenna
Democratic Congressional candidate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez arrives to vote in the midterm elections in the Bronx, New York City, U.S., November 6, 2018. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly
Missouri Attorney General and Republican U.S. Senate candidate Josh Hawley, left, checks in to the polling place before voting, Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018, in Columbia, Mo. (AP Photo/L.G. Patterson)
U.S. Rep. Beto O'Rourke (D-TX), candidate for U.S. Senate arrives with his family to vote in the 2018 midterm elections in El Paso, Texas, U.S., November 6, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Segar TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Republican candidate for Governor Ron DeSantis arrives to vote, carrying his daughter Madison, in the midterm elections at a polling place in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, U.S., November 6, 2018. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri
Democratic congressional candidate Ilhan Omar walks to the vote counting machine after filling out her ballot during midterm elections in Minneapolis, Minnesota, U.S. November 6, 2018. REUTERS/Eric Miller
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum, center, carrying son Davis, age 16 months, leaves the polling place after voting with wife R. Jai, right, during midterm elections in Tallahassee, Florida, U.S. November 6, 2018. REUTERS/Colin Hackley TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Alaska independent U.S. House candidate Alyse Galvin smiles after emerging from a voting booth on Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018, in Anchorage, Alaska. Galvin, who arrived at the polling location with her family, is challenging Republican U.S. Rep. Don Young for Alaska's lone U.S. House seat. (AP Photo/Becky Bohrer)
California gubernatorial Democratic candidate Gavin Newsom walks with his daughter, Montana, 9, to turn his ballot after voting Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018, in Larkspur, Calif. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)
Georgia Republican gubernatorial candidate Brian Kemp gives the thumbs up sign as he and youngest daughter Amy Porter leave after voting Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018, in Winterville, Ga. Kemp is in a close race with Democrat Stacey Abrams. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)
Virginia Republican senatorial candidate Corey Stewart, center, and his wife Maria Stewart, left, voting at St. Margaret's Episcopal Church in Woodbridge, Va., Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais) Wife Maria Stewart
Marty Nothstein, Republican candidate in Pennsylvania's 7th Congressional District, arrive at his polling station to vote Tuesday Nov. 6, 2018, in New Tripoli, Pa. Nothstein is facing Democrat Susan Wild for the seat held by Charlie Dent who retired. (AP Photo/Jacqueline Larma)
Anthony Brindisi, left, Democratic candidate for New York's 22nd Congressional District, casts his vote at Mohawk Valley Community College in Utica, N.Y., Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018. Brindisi, a Democratic Assemblyman, is hoping to defeat Republican Congresswoman Claudia Tenney in New York's 22nd Congressional District race. Pictured at right are his wife, Erica McGovern Brindisi, and his daughter, Lily Grace Brindisi. (AP Photo/Heather Ainsworth)
Democratic congressional candidate Amy McGrath checks in with poll workers before voting on Election Day in Georgetown, Ky., Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018. (AP Photo/Bryan Woolston)
Haley Stevens, candidate for Michigan's 11th Congressional District, gives a thumbs up as exits her polling place Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018, in Rochester Hills, Mich. Stevens is running against Lena Epstein. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)
Candidate for Pennsylvania's 1st Congressional District Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Pa., gestures after casting his ballot in Langhorne, Pa., Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
California gubernatorial Democratic candidate Gavin Newsom ties the shoe laces of his son Hunter, 7, as his son, Dutch, 2, looks on after voting Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018, in Larkspur, Calif. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)
Dana Balter, candidate for the House of Representatives in New York's 24th Congressional District, applies her "I Voted" sticker after casting her vote in Syracuse, N.Y., Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018. (AP Photo/Adrian Kraus)
AGUA DULCE, CA - NOVEMBER 06: Democratic Congressional candidate Katie Hill (L) shakes hands with a poll worker after casting her ballot at a polling place in California's 25th Congressional district on November 6, 2018 in Agua Dulce, California. Republican incumbent U.S. Rep. Steve Knight is competing against Hill for his seat in the district in a close race. Political races across the country are being hotly contested for House and Senate seats. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
COSTA MESA, CA - NOVEMBER 06: Longtime Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Costa Mesa) passes people heading toward a polling place as he walks with family members after dropping off his ballot on November 6, 2018 in Costa Mesa, California. According to recent polling, Rohrabacher and Democratic challenger Harley Rouda are in a virtual tie to represent the 48th Congressional district. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
COLUMBIA, MO - NOVEMBER 06: Missouri's Republican U.S. Senate Candidate Josh Hawley casts his vote on election day at The Crossings Church on November 6, 2018 in Columbia, Missouri. Hawley, the current Missouri Attorney General, is hoping to unseat current Democratic incumbent Senator Claire McCaskill. (Photo by Michael Thomas/Getty Images)
TURLOCK, CA - NOVEMBER 06: Republican U.S. Rep. Jeff Denham of California's 10th Congressional District casts his vote at the Berkeley Ave Baptist Church on November 6, 2018 in Turlock, California. Denham, a four-term Republican incumbent and Air Force veteran, is competing against Democratic challenger Josh Harder in one of seven closely-contested congressional races currently held by the GOP in California won by Hillary Clinton in 2016 as the Democrats hope to regain control of the House in the midterm elections. (Photo by Stephen Lam/Getty Images)
WHITMAN, MA - NOVEMBER 6: Republican U.S. Senate candidate Geoff Diehl and his wife KathyJo Boss leave Whitman Town Hall in Whitman, MA after casting their votes on Election Day, Nov. 6, 2018. (Photo by David L. Ryan/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
Democratic congressional candidate Cindy Axne gets her ballot for the midterm elections at her polling station in West Des Moines, Iowa, U.S., November 6, 2018. REUTERS/Scott Morgan
Democratic congressional candidate running in the 49th district Mike Levin gets an "I Voted" sticker put on by his wife Chrissy after they voted during midterm elections in San Juan Capistrano, California, U.S. November 6, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Blake
Michigan Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gretchen Whitmer shakes hands after voting in midterm election at her polling station at the St. Paul Lutheran Church in East Lansing, Michigan, U.S. November 6, 2018. REUTERS/Jeff Kowalsky
Democratic U.S. congressional candidate Rashida Tlaib points to her 'I voted' sticker after voting during the midterm election in Detroit, Michigan, U.S. November 6, 2018. REUTERS/Rebecca Cook TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
U.S. Democratic Congressional candidate Jahana Hayes waits in line to fill out her ballot to vote at a voting station during the midterm election in Wolcott, Connecticut, U.S., November 6, 2018. REUTERS/Michelle McLoughlin
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(All race ratings mentioned come from the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, and all times are Eastern.)

6 p.m.

Our first House indicator of the night will come in the Kentucky’s Sixth Congressional District, where GOP Rep. Andy Barr is trying to fend off a challenge from former fighter pilot Amy McGrath in a toss-up race. Indiana will also provide the first piece of the Senate puzzle as Democratic Sen. Joe Donnelly attempts to hold on against businessman Mike Braun in a state Trump won by nearly 20 points. That race is now rated a toss-up.

7 p.m.

For more early indicators in the House, look to Virginia first. If incumbent Republican Rep. Barbara Comstock is holding her own against Democratic challenger Jennifer Wexton in the 10th District, which went to Hillary Clinton by ten points and is rated lean Democrat, that’s a good sign for Republicans. The toss-up races are in the Second and Seventh districts, where GOP incumbents Rep. Scott Taylor and Rep. Dave Brat hope to survive. If Democrat Leslie Cockburn can win the open seat in the Fifth — a race rated lean Republican — that could be an early warning sign for the GOP that a blue wave is materializing.

And for a marquee race that has drawn President Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, Oprah Winfrey and a number of lawsuits about voter suppression, 7 p.m. is when polls close for the Georgia gubernatorial contest between Democrat Stacey Abrams, who could become the first African-American woman to serve as governor, and Republican Brian Kemp, who is also overseeing the race in his capacity as secretary of state. (This could head to a Dec. 4 runoff if neither candidate hits 50 percent.) Also keep an eye on the Sixth District and the Seventh District, which have GOP incumbents and lean Republican ratings.

7:30 p.m.

On the Senate front, Democrat Sherrod Brown is looking safe in Ohio while Joe Manchin’s West Virginia race is rated lean Democrat, so focus there. The race to replace Republican Gov. John Kasich in Ohio is rated a toss-up.

On the House side, Republicans are defending toss-up seats in Ohio’s 12th District (the special election in which Rep. Troy Balderson barely scraped by Danny O’Connor a few months ago), in North Carolina’s Ninth District (open seat, Mark Harris vs. Dan McCready) and North Carolina’s 13th District (Rep. Ted Budd vs. Kathy Manning). Your potential blue wave indicators in races rated lean Republican are in Ohio’s First District (Rep. Steve Chabot vs. Aftab Pureval) and West Virginia’s ThirdDistrict (an open seat where Democrat Richard Ojeda has drawn national attention for his unconventional campaign style against Republican Carol Miller).

8 p.m.

The pace picks up now with polls closed in part or all of 21 states. For the Senate, the big ones here are Florida (Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson defending against current Gov. Rick Scott), Missouri (Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill vs. state Attorney General Josh Hawley) and Tennessee (Rep. Marsha Blackburn, hoping to keep an open seat Republican, is being challenged by former Gov. Phil Bredesen). There is also a three-way race in Mississippi that could go to a runoff. Keep an eye on New Jersey, where scandal-plagued Democrat Sen. Bob Menendez is probably safe (the New Jersey Star Ledger’s endorsement had the inspiring headline “Choke it down, and vote for Menendez”) but a loss here would be an embarrassment for Democrats who failed to support a potential primary challenge that could have resulted in a stronger candidate on the ballot.

We will also start to see more results from moderate Republican districts where the working thesis is suburban white women’s antipathy toward Trump, combined with the GOP’s attempts to repeal Obamacare, might hurt them. In New Jersey, Republicans are on the defense in toss-up races in the Third District (Rep. Tom MacArthur vs. Andy Kim) and Seventh District (Rep. Leonard Lance vs. Tom Malinowski).

For the House, there are so many seats in play here that we’re going to turn to bullet points the rest of the way. Here are the toss-up seats now held by Republicans:

  •  Florida’s 15th (Open; Ross Spano vs. Kristen Carlson)
  • Florida’s 26th (Rep. Carlos Curbelo vs. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell)
  • Illinois’s 14th (Rep. Randy Hultgren vs. Lauren Underwood)
  • Maine’s Second (Rep. Bruce Poliquin vs. Jared Golden)
  • Pennsylvania’s First (Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick vs. Scott Wallace)

If Democrats get a healthy chunk of those, they’re in good shape to take the House. They’ll be in great shape if they can start flipping the following, which are GOP seats rated as lean Republican:

  • Florida’s Sixth (open, Michael Waltz vs. Nancy Soderberg)
  • Florida’s 16th (Rep. Vern Buchanan vs. David Shapiro)
  • Florida’s 18th (Rep. Brian Mast vs. Lauren Baer)
  • Illinois’s 12th (Rep. Mike Bost vs. Brendan Kelly)
  • Illinois’s 13th (Rep. Rodney Davis vs. Betsy Dirksen Londrigan)
  • Missouri’s Second (Rep. Ann Wagner vs. Cort VanOstran)
  • Pennsylvania’s 10th (Rep. Scott Perry vs. George Scott)
  • Pennsylvania’s 16th (Rep. Mike Kelly vs. Ron DiNicola)

Among the races for governor, focus on toss-ups in Oklahoma and Connecticut and then Florida, where Andrew Gillum is attempting to become the state’s first black governor. The other result in the Sunshine State to keep an eye on is Amendment 4: it requires 60 percent of the vote, but if it passes, it will return the right to vote to convicted felons who’ve completed their sentences, altering the electorate — 1.4 million people, including one in five African-Americans, are now ineligible to vote — in a major way in a state that could help Democrats in the 2020 presidential election and beyond.

9 p.m.

The final polls close in Texas, where there is a Senate race between Republican Sen. Ted Cruz and Democratic Rep. Beto O’Rourke that you may have heard about. We’ll also start to get Senate results in Arizona (a toss-up race for a Republican open seat between GOP Rep. Martha McSally and Democratic Rep. Kyrsten Sinema) and Minnesota (Democratic Sen. Tina Smith, who was appointed to replace Al Franken, defends against Karin Housley in a race rated lean Democrat). Minnesota also has two of the only House seats where Democrats are on the defense, with competitive open seats in the First and the Eighth districts.

At this point of the night, we should have some indication of how the House is trending. The lean Republican seats in play here — where a high percentage of Democratic wins would mean something big — are Texas’s 22nd (Rep. Pete Olson vs. Sri Preston Kulkarni), Texas’s 23rd (Rep. Will Hurd vs. Gina Ortiz Jones), Nebraska’s Second (Rep. Don Bacon vs. Kara Eastman), New York’s 11th (Rep. Dan Donovan vs. Max Rose), New York’s 24th (Rep. John Katko vs. Dana Balter), New York’s 27th (Rep. Chris Collins, facing an indictment on insider-trading charges, vs. Nate McMurray) and Wisconsin’s First (for the seat House Speaker Paul Ryan is stepping down from; Bryan Steil vs. Randy Bryce). We’ll also have results from some of the big gubernatorial races in Kansas, Wisconsin, Colorado and Michigan.

Bonus Michigan: Three interesting ballot initiatives here to keep an eye on: one would legalize marijuana for recreational use, one would expand voting rights and one would eliminate partisan gerrymandering through the creation of an independent redistricting commission.

10 p.m.

The biggest races here are in the Senate. The first polls close in North Dakota, where Sen. Heidi Heitkamp is the most vulnerable Democratic incumbent in a race against Rep. Kevin Kramer, now rated lean Republican. In Nevada, GOP Sen. Dean Heller is attempting to survive a challenge from Rep. Jacky Rosen in a state Clinton won in 2016, and in Montana, Democratic Sen. Jon Tester is trying to hold on against Matt Rosendale in a state Trump won. (Both races are rated toss-ups.) This is also when the polls close in Utah, so this is when you’ll get the official alert that Mitt Romney has been elected senator from the Beehive State.

On the House side, this is where we will find out if GOP Rep. Steve King’s consistent coziness with white nationalists costs him against J.D Scholten in Iowa’s Fourth District. We’ll also see whether Republican Rep. Mia Love, the only black woman in the GOP caucus, can survive a challenge by Ben McAdams in Utah’s Fourth (a toss-up) and how Montana Rep. Greg Gianforte, who pled guilty to assaulting a reporter prior to last year’s special election, fares against Kathleen Williams.

11 p.m.

We’ll also get results from Washington, where Republicans are defending a toss-up open seat (in the Eighth District) and two lean Republican districts (Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler in the Third and Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers in the Fifth).

This is also when California closes, so if the House is yet to be decided, it’s going to be a late night as votes are counted in a half-dozen Republican seats are rated as either toss-up or lean Republican. If it comes down to the wire, those races are:

  • 10th District (Rep. Jeff Denham vs. Josh Harder)
  • 25th District (Rep. Steve Knight vs. Katie Hill)
  • 39th District (Open, Young Kim vs. Gil Cisneros)
  • 45th District (Rep. Mimi Walters vs. Katie Porter)
  • 48th District (Rep. Dana Rohrabacher vs. Harley Rouda)
  • 50th District (Rep. Duncan Hunter vs Ammar Campa-Najjar)

If the Democrats take the House and you’re interested in the final margin, there are four races rated likely Republican — the First, Fourth, 21st and 22nd districts — that could flip in a blue wave.

12 a.m.

GOP Rep. Don Young, 85, first won Alaska’s congressional seat in a 1973 special election, when his opponent this time around — Democrat Alyse Galvin — was 8 years old. This Galvin’s first campaign, having never run for anything prior to attending the 2017 Women’s March, but she has a chance in a race rated lean Republican. (The final poll closing times anywhere in the nation are in the western Aleutian Islands, which shut things down at 1 a.m.)

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