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12 contests to watch closely on Tuesday night

I voted stickers are seen as people drop off their Vote-by Mail ballots at the Miami-Dade Election Department headquarters on October 14, 2020 in Doral, Florida. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

(CNN) — It’s Election Day in America, and there are actually 56 separate presidential elections taking place: The 50 states, Washington, DC, and individual congressional districts in Maine and Nebraska.

So what should you be on the lookout for to know who is winning the election? Here is what I will be watching:


Maine’s 2nd congressional district: Theren’t aren’t a lot of scenarios where this one electoral vote matters, though it’s possible. More importantly, this district voted for Barack Obama in 2012 and President Donald Trump in 2016. Polls suggest a close race. If former Vice President Joe Biden wins here, it’ll be a very good sign in his quest to win back some White voters without a college degree. This district is filled with them.

New Hampshire: The fact that the Granite State doesn’t even seems all that competitive has been one of the most ominous signs for Trump. He lost it by less than a point in 2016, and it foretold his inroads with White voters in the northern tier. Biden should win here, so anything other than a solid win for the man from Delaware would suggest that Trump is in a better position than commonly assumed.

Pennsylvania: I don’t know what more to say than this is the most important state this election cycle. Trump likely can’t win without it. Biden can, though it will be difficult. The question here is whether Biden can hold on to enough support with White voters without a college degree, while getting good Black turnout in Philadelphia and running up the score among White voters with a college degree in the Philadelphia suburbs. Be aware: The unprecedented number of voters casting a ballot via mail could mean we won’t know the results here for days.


North Carolina: Unlike in Pennsylvania, we should have a fairly good idea who won in the Tar Heel State on Election Night. Biden has held a small but clear lead in the polls. Trump’s hopes rest on getting strong rural turnout and hoping Black turnout stays down. Biden is hoping the changing demographics of North Carolina helps him. Specifically, he wants big numbers out of the Research Triangle around Raleigh-Durham. A Biden win here probably means he has won the presidency. Also, watch the state’s Senate race, which could ultimately determine control of Congress’ upper chamber.

Georgia: Speaking of changing Southern states, Biden and Trump have been neck-and-neck in the Peach State. The reason is that Trump is doing ridiculously well in rural areas, while Biden is trying to take advantage of the growing vote in the Atlanta area and surrounding suburbs. Getting a final vote count here could take a while, so a close race may take a while to call. The state has additional importance because of two competitive Senate races. In those contests, there will be a runoff if the winner doesn’t get 50% +1 of the vote.

Florida: No swing state is as big as the Sunshine State and its 29 electoral votes. Biden’s polling much better among senior citizens than Hillary Clinton was in 2016, while Trump is doing better among Hispanics than he did four years ago. The vote count here is going to come in quickly. A Biden win here early in the evening would almost certainly end the Trump presidency, and Biden actually holds a 2- to 3- point lead in the polls. After the polls underestimated Republicans here in 2018, however, analysts are being cautious.


Ohio: This is a contest few of us have actually spoken about because the state isn’t the bellwether it once was. The polls are tight, though, and the vote count could actually be far along on Election Night. The big reason to watch here is that a Biden win would mean we’re heading towards a blowout. Moreover, Ohio shares a border with Pennsylvania, which is more important than any other state as we head into the campaign’s final hours.

Michigan: Clinton lost here by 0.2 points four years ago. Trump is trying to repeat his magic, but Biden has a larger lead than Clinton had in the closing days. He’s simply doing better among White voters than she was. Questions remain: Can Biden flip swing county Macomb County back to the Democrats? How much will he run up the score in well-educated Oakland County? Whatever the answers to questions like these, Biden probably needs to win Michigan to take the presidency. Because of vote-by mail, it could take some time to know if he has.

Wisconsin: Democrats were furious that Clinton didn’t go enough to a state that Trump ended up winning by less than a point in 2016. Biden hasn’t made that mistake. The polls have him up by high single digits, as the coronavirus rages. Biden’s going to get a huge vote total out of Dane County (where Madison is) and Milwaukee. Trump will do well in most of the rest of the state. Ultimately, a telling sign may be how well Biden does between Madison and La Crosse, a swing area. Biden needs this state more than Trump does, and he’ll likely get it.


Texas: You might call Texas a Southern state. You might call it a western state. Either way, no Democratic presidential candidate has won here since 1976. A ton of people have voted early, as the state’s population in the Houston and Dallas suburbs has exploded. Biden needs to capitalize on those regions, as Trump puts up big numbers in the rural areas. The polls have Trump by a sliver. A Biden win here would be the cherry on the sundae. Expect a fairly quick vote out of the state, unless the race is really tight.

Arizona: Folks who have followed me know I hark on this state a lot. Biden has led in the polling most of the year here. That lead has generally traded in the 3- to 4- point range as the Phoenix suburbs have shifted to the left. The reason the state is so important is because a win in Arizona and Nebraska’s 2nd congressional district (where Biden has been ahead) means he only needs to win Michigan and Wisconsin along with the 2016 Clinton states to reach 270 electoral votes. We should have a fairly good idea who has taken the state on election night.

Nevada: This is the Clinton 2016 victory where Trump has the best chance of winning, though Biden has held a consistent polling advantage. The state has a lot of White voters without a college degree, but the size of the Democratic vote out of Clark County (where Las Vegas is) is probably going to be too much for Trump to overcome. A Trump victory here along with Arizona would signal that Biden’s Hispanic problem ended up being worse than commonly assumed.