Hindsight doesn’t always have to be 2020

Photo+credit%3A+Gabrielle+Rodriguez

Photo credit: Gabrielle Rodriguez

illustration by Gabrielle Rodriguez

Tuesday, Nov. 3 will be a historic day in more ways than one. In seven days, we elect 35 United States senators, 435 members of Congress, 13 state governors and one leader of the free world. Amid a global pandemic and an economic recession, the stakes are higher than ever before, and in a year full of unpredictable turns, I hate to say it, but it’s probably going to be more than just one night of confusion.

Because of record-high turnout, primarily due to over 40 million and climbing mail-in ballots, elections experts across the country warn that we might have to wait an unprecedented amount of time to know for sure who won and by how much. However, that doesn’t mean we will have to wait until all the official state results are completed to know who our next president is. There are some tea leaves and early indicators that we can keep an eye out for, particularly on election night and in the days that follow it. Here are some of my tips for what to look out for so you can make sense of the news and draw some strong conclusions.

What to expect and key things to know

First things first, the magic number is 270. That is the number of electoral college votes needed for either Biden or Trump to win the election. Because of the way timezones work and how each state’s political leanings breakdown, the early state calls typically skew Republican, so be careful not to freak out or get too excited if you see Trump ahead of Biden 33 to 16 after the initial poll closings. Nonetheless, by watching what happens in these early call states, like Kentucky, Georgia and Vermont, we can get a fairly decent idea of where the country as a whole is going and particularly where their neighboring battleground states are going (i.e. Ohio, Florida, and New Hampshire).

Since 67% of Democrats say they are voting early, opposed to only 31% on Election Day, be prepared for a misleading early lead for Trump and Republicans in states all red, blue and purple. The thing to remember is that about half of all the votes cast will have been early votes, which typically don’t get counted until later. Texas alone reached over 2/3 of its entire 2016 turnout over a week before Halloween, so be careful not to jump the gun or listen to crackpot conspiracies about voter fraud.

What to look out for

Both Biden and Trump are fighting it out for votes in states across the Rust Belt and the Sun Belt. Within these historic swing states and traditionally safe states, you can expect the pundits to talk at length about certain bellwether counties. Below are nine key counties that have the potential to either swing their respective states for a candidate or provide us with a greater understanding of the race. Almost all of them are suburban and regularly provide Republicans with large hauls of votes, but they only have one thing in common: in 2016, they all voted for Trump.

Back-to-Blue Counties: Pinellas County, FL; Macomb County, MI; and Montgomery County, OH.

Each of these was an Obama-Trump county that historically trended Democratic but voted for Trump in 2016. For Trump to hold on to Florida’s 29 electoral college votes, a state he needs to have any viable path to re-election, he needs to win Pinellas county, and in the age of suburban revolts against Republicans expect to see Biden betting on a blow out here and in Macomb and Montgomery counties.

GOP Strongholds: Maricopa County, AZ; Waukesha County, WI; Lancaster County, PA; New Hanover County, NC; Tarrant County, TX; and Woodbury County, IA.

These counties are among the largest Republican-leaning counties in the nation or have historically been reliable ones for GOP candidates. For Biden to be competitive statewide in these states, he needs to keep the margins tight in places like Tarrant, Waukesha and Lancaster counties to deny Trump a sizable vote share. Trump conversely needs to ensure that he outright wins and wins at least comfortably in places like Maricopa County, where it is home to almost 60 percent of the state’s population.