I spent most of Election Day listening to the radio and getting more and more optimistic. Then the polls closed and the votes started being counted. I was still optimistic, but it got more and more forced as the night wore on. The timeline:
4:00 pm. The first polls just closed in the east, and all networks are showing Bush ahead, 34-3, by winning several states that were already considered safe for him. Maybe this will shake a few Kerry voters loose in western states, if they havenít already voted, but the numbers themselves mean nothing. These arenít ďkey,Ē ďswingĒ or ďbattlegroundĒ states.
NBC is showing some Senate results in a crawl at the bottom of the screen, but itís annoying me because they donít tell us if the candidates are incumbents, or which party holds the contested seat. I want to keep score! The only one Iím sure of is Bunning from Kentucky. He went nuts earlier this year and is losing, 55-45. (I know of him because he once pitched a perfect game for the Phillies.)
4:30 pm. West Virginia drops its 5 electoral votes in the Bush column. CBS is acting as if this is a big surprise, even though Bush carried the state in 2000. Now itís 39-3. Looks like a landslide.
Okay, theyíre going back to ďissues.Ē Jobs, war, blah blah blah. Itís too late for issues. Letís have some numbers!
5:00 pm. Polls close in more states. New Jersey goes blue, and other states break as expected, but many others are still too close to call. Kerry takes the lead, 77-66 on CNN, 74-66 on ABC. CBS is the only network willing to call South Carolina for Bush, so they have the president up 80-77.
NBC is showing the raw vote in Florida, which means nothing. With 20% counted, Bush is ahead. Since absentee ballots wonít be counted there until Thursday, according to CNN, I think itís a little too early to call. (But Iím not afraid. Iíll say Florida goes blue, along with Ohio and Pennsylvania. Wolf?)
5:30 pm. NBC finally calls South Carolina for Bush. Bush now leads, 81-77 on the peacock network.
5:40 pm. CNN has called North Carolina for Bush. Itís now 102-77, Bush leading. Or so they say.
6:00 pm. All the states theyíre calling now are states where we knew who was going to win ahead of time. The 155-112 Bush lead in the electoral college means little, because the contested states are still out. Theyíre even keeping the polls open an extra hour and a half in Pennsylvania. And the polls here in California will be open for another two hours. I donít think it will take the networks long to put those 55 electoral votes in the blue column.
6:15 pm. With 90% of the Kentucky vote in, itís a dead heat for Senate now. Bunning seems to have the momentum, though.
7:00 pm. More news thatís no news. Not a single state has switched parties from 2000 yet. Itís 193-112, but I think Bush has capped out. There isnít much left for him to win. But apparently Bunning is going to hold the Kentucky Senate seat for the Republicans. Heís barely ahead, but there arenít any more votes to count.
7:50 pm. CNN calls Pennsylvania for Kerry and says itís a major disappointment for the Bush campaign. Itís now 193-133 for Bush. Come on, Ohio. Come on, Florida. On Wisconsin.
8:00 pm. Polls are closed in California, and with our 55 electoral votes in the Kerry column, itís now 209-199 for Bush. Or 200-188. Or 197-188. Or 219-199. For the first time all night, all the networks have different projections.
To be honest, Iím not as confident as I was earlier in the evening. Maybe itís time to stop looking at numbers and start thinking about issues again.
8:38 pm. ABC gives Florida to Bush. Bad news. Now Kerry has to win Ohio and at least two more states. Itís 237-188, they say. I must have overestimated the fear factor that Bush and Cheney promoted. I promise not to get bitter about this.
9:30 pm. 246-206. Ohio still out.
10:55 pm. 249-211. CNN says Ohio is too close to call, and they donít care what any other network says. Iowa wonít even finish counting their votes until tomorrow, due to mechanical problems and fatigue (theyíre too tired to count?). Iím resigned to going to bed without knowing for sure, especially since Ohio wonít count provisional ballots for eleven days.
11:30 pm. CNN finally calls Michigan, Minnesota and Hawaii for Kerry. Bush leads 249-242. Five states to go: Ohio, Iowa, Wisconsin, Nevada and New Mexico. Itís definitely not going to be over tonight. I think I actually believe that now.