The eight races that will keep you on the edge of your seat
Rep. Baron Hill (D, incumbent) v. Todd Young (R)
Polls close at 6:00 pm EDT
— Hill's vote for health reform
— Cap-and-trade legislation
— Young's reference to Social Security as a Ponzi scheme
How big a GOP tidal wave? When Democrat Baron Hill won his U.S. House race in 2006, he retook the Indiana seat from the Republican who had ousted him two years earlier. Hill's return signaled a national wave that put his party in control of Congress. This year, Republicans hope to once again bounce Hill from office in this swing district in the state's southeast corner. With polls closing at 6 p.m. EDT, the outcome may provide an early glimpse of what's in store nationwide. Hill faces a new Republican challenger, local prosecutor Todd Young. A Hill loss could indicate "a really bad night for the Democrats," says Brian Vargus, a political scientist at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis. The district—which includes Bloomington, home of Indiana University, and which Obama lost to John McCain by 1 percentage point in 2008—"is the type Republicans should win in a wave," says Nathan Gonzales of the nonpartisan Rothenberg Political Report.
By Catherine Dodge
Rep. Tom Perriello (D, incumbent) v. Robert Hurt (R)
Polls close at 7:00 pm EDT
— Health reform
— Stimulus measure
— Cap on carbon emissions
Will low turnout by blacks and younger voters be key? Buoyed by college students and blacks energized by Barack Obama's Presidential bid, Democrat Tom Perriello two years ago won a U.S. House seat in Virginia by 727 votes—in percentage terms, the nation's closest congressional contest. This year, his race against Republican Robert Hurt, a state senator, tests whether Democrats can survive without Obama on the ticket and with unpopular votes on their records. In the largely rural district that includes the University of Virginia, about 20 percent of 2008's voters were African American, and the college yielded 4,000 new Democratic backers. Many of those have graduated, while newcomer students don't seem as motivated. "Perriello would be lucky to get a third" as many to the polls, says David Wasserman of the nonpartisan Cook Political Report. Perriello raked in $3.1 million by Oct. 15 to Hurt's $1.7 million. Still, polls show him lagging Hurt, who excoriates government's growth.
By Laura Litvan
John Raese (R) v. Joe Manchin (D)
Polls close at 7:30 pm EDT
— Health reform
— Legislation to cap carbon emissions
— President Obama
Could Democrats lose control of the Senate? Democrat Joe Manchin is the popular West Virginia governor vying for the Senate seat opened up by Robert Byrd's death in June. But an Oct. 12 survey by Public Policy Polling shows 47 percent of voters would prefer Manchin, who won reelection with 70 percent of the vote in 2008, remain as governor. Another issue is Obama's unpopularity in the state; he lost it in 2008 by 13 percentage points. The upshot may be a crucial Republican win that helps the GOP gain the 10 seats it needs for Senate control. Republican businessman John Raese has transformed the contest into a toss-up by urging West Virginians to do their part to put a check on Obama. To counter that argument, Manchin in one ad dons a hunter's outfit and, toting a shotgun, promises to "get the federal government off our backs." The ad ends with Manchin shooting a bullet through climate-change legislation—disliked in the coal-rich state—that's nailed to a tree.
By James Rowley
Rep. Mary Jo Kilroy (D, incumbent) v. Steve Stivers (R)
Polls close at 7:30 pm EDT
— Financial regulation reform
— Health-care overhaul
— Stimulus spending
How tough will Obama's 2012 reelection be? President Obama was back in Columbus, Ohio, on Oct. 17 for a get-out-the-vote rally on the Ohio State University campus. It was his 11th trip to the state since taking office—and his fourth to Columbus. One of the beneficiaries of these visits is U.S. Representative Mary Jo Kilroy, a first-time Democrat battling for another term. But Obama himself has plenty to gain from reminding Ohio voters why they backed him in 2008. He won Kilroy's district by 9 percentage points, while she eked out a 2,311-vote win. Polls show Kilroy trailing this year after supporting Obama's health-care bill, the stimulus, and new rules for the nation's financial markets. Some Obama voters are revisiting their support for the President and his party. "I just think we need a change," says Gordon Reis, a resident of Worthington, Ohio, who plans to vote for just one Democrat this year—for county commissioner—after voting for Obama and Kilroy in 2008.
By Patrick O'Connor
Rep. Chet Edwards (D, incumbent) v. Bill Flores (R)
Polls close at 8:00 pm EDT
— Bank bailouts
— Stimulus spending
— Increase in government debt
Is economic populism a winning formula? There's no shortage of Democratic candidates under fire for having cast unpopular votes in the last two years. One bellwether is Texas Democrat Chet Edwards, a 10-term incumbent who has hung onto his heavily Republican district, wedged between Dallas and Austin, by rejecting some of his party's biggest priorities. This term, he opposed Obama's health-care overhaul. But he gave Republican challenger Bill Flores an opening with votes for the Troubled Asset Relief Program and the equally unpopular stimulus plan, which the lawmaker admits might finally do him in. "It may cost me an election," Edwards told the Dallas Morning News. "But it was the right thing to do." Analysts give Flores the edge, even though most GOP leaders in Congress voted for TARP, too. News that the much-maligned bank bailout will cost about $50 billion, a fraction of what was initially feared, may be too late for Edwards. Voters so despise TARP, lawmakers say, it's not worth trying to change minds.
By Brian Faler
Sen. Michael Bennet (D, incumbent) v. Ken Buck (R)
Polls close at 9:00 pm EDT
— The economy
— Government spending
How influential will money from outside groups be? Colorado may be Karl Rove's next proving ground. Independent groups, two of which the Republican super-strategist helped start, are pouring money into the state. Between Sept. 1 and Oct. 17, outside groups reported spending $13.6 million here, more than in any other state, with $8.5 million helping Republican candidates. "You can't have your television on for 10 or 15 minutes without seeing at least two or three ads saying that someone shouldn't have been born," says Kenneth Bickers, chairman of the University of Colorado at Boulder's political science department. The Rove groups, American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS, have raised $56 million and spent $3.7 million through Oct. 17 to oppose Democratic Senator Michael Bennet, who is in a tight race with Republican Ken Buck, a Tea Party favorite. Colorado also has three House Democrats—Ed Perlmutter, John Salazar, and Betsy Markey—with close contests, making them vulnerable to attacks. The outside money may tilt the balance.
By Kristin Jensen, Jonathan D. Salant, and Traci McMillan
Sen. Harry Reid (D, incumbent) v. Sharron Angle (R)
Polls close at 10:00 pm EDT
— Nevada's 14.4 percent jobless rate, the highest in the nation
— Home foreclosure rates
Can the Tea Party's long-shot candidates win? Even the Vegas oddsmakers can't pick this one. Polls show the contest between Majority Leader Harry Reid and Sharron Angle, a Tea Party darling, for the Senate is one of the closest in the nation. It may well be the most important, too. The race has become a proxy for whether Tea Party insurgents can elect long-shot candidates, as well as defeat one of the leaders of the party in power. The Democratic Establishment has rallied around Reid, with President Obama set to make his third appearance in the state on Oct. 22. Reid needs all the help he can get—Angle raised more than $14 million in the third quarter to his $2.8 million. Much of the spending has gone toward attack ads that have made even some in Sin City blush. When the candidates faced off in an Oct. 14 debate, Reid repeatedly called Angle extreme, while Angle called on Reid to "man up" in dealing with a looming Social Security crisis.
By John McCormick
Chris Dudley (R) v. John Kitzhaber (D)
Mostly mail-in ballots
— High jobless rate
— Education reform
— Government expansion
Will Republicans gain eight governors? The anti-Establishment mood prevalent in much of the U.S. is bolstering the prospects of Republican Chris Dudley in Oregon's gubernatorial race, as the political newcomer seeks to break the state's streak of six straight Democratic chief executives. If Dudley prevails, he would be part of a net gain in Republican governors that some analysts say could go as high as eight, for a total of 32. That would be the most since 1998 and would put the party in enviable shape as states prepare to redraw their political boundaries. Dudley, a former center on the Portland Trail Blazers basketball team, is in a tight race with Democrat John Kitzhaber to replace retiring Governor Ted Kulongoski. Kitzhaber, governor from 1995 to 2003, argues his experience will benefit a state with 10.6 percent unemployment. Dudley, a towering figure at 6-foot-11, says his lack of a political pedigree is an asset. Oregon's balloting is mail-in, or hand-in by 8 p.m. local time on Nov. 2. Results are announced on Election Day after 11 p.m. EDT.
By Laura Litvan