All the months of campaigning, denials of witchcraft, demands that rivals “man up,” and stomping on heads -- not to mention $4 billion in spending -- have come down to this.
It’s Election Day. We should have a fairly good idea how things will turn out nationally by around 9 p.m. -- at least in terms of U.S. House races. Most analysts project Republican gains of at least 45 seats -- enough to put the GOP in the majority -- while some say Republicans could pick up as many as 85 seats.
The Senate is a different matter. The GOP needs to win 10 seats to take control, and while that’s unlikely, it’s not impossible. It’s hard to see the Republicans gaining fewer than six Senate seats tonight, and most expect GOP gains of about eight. Because of the peculiarities of certain races, such as Alaska, where primary-defeated Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski is running a write-in campaign, it could be a long time before we know all the results. But if the GOP fails to win a few close races where we will know the results early -- in states like Illinois, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia -- we’ll know that a change in control is not going to happen.
While the Washington region doesn’t have many high-profile contests, there are a few important races on the ballot.
* In Maryland, where polls are open until 8 p.m., the big contest is the race for governor. Though Democratic incumbent Martin O’Malley has pulled ahead in late polling, a national Republican tidal wave could still result in an upset win by ex-governor Bob Ehrlich. If that happens, it means Democrats are in huge trouble. In the state’s U.S. Senate race, Democratic incumbent Barbara Mikulski seems immune to the national GOP trend, and should easily win a fifth term.
Maryland’s biggest U.S. House race is in the First District on the Delmarva Peninsula, well outside of the Washington area. There, incumbent Democrat Frank Kratovil, who rode in on Barack Obama’s coattails in 2008, is expected to lose his seat to Republican Andy Harris. If Kratovil manages to pull out a win, it means a much better night for Democrats across the nation than most expect.
Maryland races closer to Washington are less competitive. Democratic incumbents should win easily in the Fourth, Fifth, and Eighth Districts, regardless of the national trend.
* In Virginia, where polls are open until 7 p.m., the tightest local race is in the 11th District, where freshman Democratic Rep. Gerry Connolly faces Republican Keith Fimian. This race could be an early indicator of how things are shaping up nationally. If Fimian wins, expect the GOP to take at least 50 seats in the House. If Connolly wins, the total could be lower.
The race in the neighboring Eighth District is not as close, but there’s still the possibility Republican Patrick Murray could upset longtime Democratic incumbent Rep. Jim Moran. If Murray does win, it portends massive GOP gains across the U.S.
Two Democrat-held Virginia congressional seats outside the D.C. area, in the Second and Fifth Districts, are likely to go Republican.
* In the District, where polls are open until 8 p.m., Vincent Gray will be elected mayor, with write-in votes probably running second, ahead of three minor candidates actually on the ballot. Kwame Brown will be elected D.C. Council chair, and Democratic incumbents are likely to sweep Council races. There are competitive races in Ward 3, where Democrat Mary Cheh faces Republican Dave Hedgepeth, and in Ward 5, where Democrat Harry Thomas Jr. faces Republican Tim Day.
D.C. also has several competitive nonpartisan races for school board, particularly in Ward 1, where incumbent Dotti Love Wade faces Patrick Mara, and in Ward 6, where Melissa Rohan faces Monica Warren-Jones. There are also many competitive Advisory Neighborhood Commission races across the city. The most interesting is in ANC 8C03, where incumbent Mary Cuthbert is being challenged by Larry Pretlow. There’s also a ballot question on whether the D.C. attorney general should be elected.
Amid all the cynicism and dirt, it’s tempting to just stay home. When I get that feeling, I remember a news item from 1994. An elderly black South African woman spent three days traveling to vote for the first time, sleeping on the ground and alternately walking and grabbing rides when she could. Finally arriving, she whispered to the polling official that she could not read, but wanted to vote for Nelson Mandela. The official showed her how.
If she could go through all that to exercise a right we are quick to take for granted, I can at least walk a block to my own polling place. I hope you will too.
So until then, here’s a reminder to vote from folk singer Spook Handy: