Bay Area News Group reporter Paul Rogers gives minute-by-minute updates on the big races in the Bay Area, California and the nation, Nov. 6, 2012.



Paul Rogers' Ten Questions on Election Night

1) Will Obama's Midwest Safety Net Hold?

The short version: If President Obama wins Ohio, Virginia or Florida, the race is basically over.

The longer version:

It takes 270 electoral votes to win the presidency. Based on months of polling, President Obama has a solid lead in 18 states, plus the District of Columbia, that account for 237 electoral votes. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney leads in 23 states with 191. In recent days, however, early voting trends and polls have shown North Carolina tilting toward Romney and Nevada leaning toward Obama.

If those trends hold, that leaves Obama with 243 and Romney with 206. What's left to decide the next president? Seven true "toss up" states: Ohio (18), Wisconsin (10), Iowa (6), New Hampshire (4), Florida (29), Colorado (9) and Virginia (13).

No Republican has won the White House without winning Ohio. And Ohio has picked the eventual winner in every presidential election since 1964.

Obama's easiest path to re-election is to win Ohio and Wisconsin, which would give him 271 electoral votes. He won both in 2008, and led them by 3 and 4 points in the final polls Monday, respectively. If Romney wins Ohio, however, Obama would need to capture Iowa, Wisconsin and 11 more electoral votes to survive re-election. Those could come from winning Virginia, where the president led by less than 1 point in the pre-election polls, or from Colorado and New Hampshire, where he had roughly a 2-point polling lead.

Florida, where Romney had a 2-point lead in the polls, is essential if Republicans are going to win the White House. If Romney captures the Sunshine State, he'll need to win Virginia, North Carolina, Ohio and one more state. Colorado would be most likely.

As you can tell, it's difficult, but not impossible for Romney to win. Obama has an easier path -- and more paths -- to 270. Many of them depend the Midwest, which is why he spent his final day campaigning Monday in Wisconsin, Ohio and Iowa. But his leads are very slim.

2) When will we know who won?

Remember the old Eric Clapton song "After Midnight?"

Count on it, TV viewers: Romney is likely to have a lead for the first few hours of the evening as he racks up electoral votes in Southern states. That will change at 8 pm Pacific time when polls in California, Oregon and Washington close. Obama is favored heavily in those three states, which make up 74 electoral votes. The outcomes of key states like Ohio, however, could drag on well past midnight.

The first polls close in Virginia at 4 pm Pacific Time. If Virginia is called early for either candidate, that's a strong sign he is having a good night. Half an hour later, at 4:30 pm, polls close in Ohio and North Carolina, followed by a large wave of key states at 5 pm, including Florida, New Hampshire and Pennsylvania, where Romney has made a last minute push, but where Democrats have a 1 million voter registration edge.

Colorado and Wisconsin close at 6 pm, followed by Iowa and Nevada at 7 pm.

It's quite possible we might not know who the next president is until early Wednesday. If Ohio or Florida, which have had long lines in early voting due to Republican governors reducing polling days and hours in those states, are too close to call, the final result may not be known for days, or even weeks.

That's how long it could take for a recount in those states, or in a contested battle over late absentee votes and provisional ballots. Provisionals are votes cast on Election Day, but set aside for later confirmation, because of irregularities such as a registered voter turning up at the wrong polling place, having a different name than appears on the voter rolls, or having requested an absentee ballot but not turning it in.If the outcome is in doubt, lawyers for both sides will argue over each ballot, and there are hundreds of thousands in Ohio alone.

3) Will Same Sex Marriage Finally Make it Over the Threshold?

Voters have never approved same-sex marriage in any US state. Since 2004, six states have legalized same-sex marriage: Iowa, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Vermont, New York and Massachusetts. But there, it's only been done by state lawmakers or courts. Today, measures to legalize it are on the ballot in Maine, Maryland and Washington, and all were at or above 50 percent in the most recent polls. Meanwhile, in Minnesota, a ballot measure to ban same sex marriage trailed, 45-52 percent in the most recent poll taken last week.

4) Will the U.S. Senate Stay Blue?

Democrats currently have a 53-47 majority in the U.S. Senate. If Mitt Romney wins the presidency tonight, a Democratic Senate could bottle up much of his agenda. Republicans had high hopes earlier this year for winning the Senate majority back. Afterall, Democrats are defending 23 seats, and the GOP is defending only 10.

But a series of major missteps by Tea Party affiliated Republican candidates -- from Todd Akin in Missouri talking about "legitimate rape" to Richard Mourdock in Indiana describing how when a woman becomes pregnant during rape "it is something that God intended" -- significantly increased chances that several doomed Democrats will slip by with victories.

The final analysis? Most experts expect the Democrats keep a majority, with between 51 and 54 seats.

The races to watch:

- Massachusetts, where former Harvard professor and Democrat Elizabeth Warren held a slight lead in pre-election polls over incumbent Republican Scott Brown in the battle for Ted Kennedy's old seat.

- Virginia, where two former governors, Democrat Tim Kaine and Republican George Allen, were essentially tied in the race for retiring Democrat Jim Webb's seat.

- Montana, where wheat farmer Jon Tester, the incumbent Democrat, tries to win a second term in a red state against Republican House member Denny Rehberg.

- Nevada, in what may be the closest senate race in the nation: Incumbent Republican Dean Heller fighting a challenge from Democrat Shelley Berkly. Heller is slightly favored, but a big Obama win in the Silver State could help Berkly draw even.

5) Will California Voters Buck the Trend and Approve New Taxes?

Lots of money is on the line, along with Gov. Jerry Brown's reputation, tonight. Californians will decided whether to approve Proposition 30, a measure backed by Brown that would raise roughly $7 billion a year to fund public schools, community colleges, universities and other programs. Prop 30 would increase sales taxes by a quarter cent to 7.5 percent, and income taxes by 1 to 3 percentage points on residents with incomes over $250,000, with the higher rate imposed on the highest incomes.

But the measure has hovered around 50 percent in the polls, and has taken a hit from millions in donations by secretive Arizona groups with ties to GOP strategist Karl Rove and the billionaire Koch Brothers. Will Brown's threats to shorten the school year work? Or will voters lack of trust in Sacramento -- and angry about Democratic votes to push through a $68 billion high-speed rail project while claiming poverty -- doom the whole thing?

Meanwhile, Proposition 39, a measure by San Francisco financier Tom Steyer to close a loophole on the way out of state businesses compute their California taxes, appears headed for victory. It would raise $1 billion a year, half of it for renewable energy programs in the first five years.

Prop 38, a widespread income tax funded by millionaire heiress Molly Munger, daugter of Warren Buffett's business partner Charles Munger, to fund schools, trails badly in the polls.

This is a key moment in Brown's legacy. If his measure fails, it may dissuade the 74-year-old Democratic veteran from running for re-election in 2014. If Steyer's Prop 39 wins, it could be the launching pad for him to run for governor as a Democrat in 2014 or 2018 against Attorney General Kamala Harris, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

6) Will Bay Area residents make major changes to their water supplies?

Proposition F in San Francisco would require the city to spend $8 million on a study of draining Hetch Hetchy Reservoir in Yosemite National Park and restoring its spectacular landscape. But the water system supplies 2.5 million people in four counties -- San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara and Alameda -- and most political leaders from Sen. Dianne Feinstein on down, oppose it.

Meanwhile, voters in Santa Clara County will decide the fate of Measure B, a $548 million parcel tax to fund flood control and environmental projects at the Santa Clara Valley Water District. That measure, the costliest on Silicon Valley's ballot today, needs a two-thirds majority to pass, a heavy lift considering the district's controversies over high salaries and questionable spending during the past decade.

7) Are California House Members Going to be Booted Out?

Six months ago Democrats felt confident that they could pick up the 25 seats they need to retake the majority in the House of Representatives, ousting John Boehner as speaker. Now, however, most analysts -- and many Democratic leaders -- say that isn't likely to happen.

A Republican win could well mean that former Speaker Nancy Pelosi is removed by fellow Democrats as House Minority Leader, and that if President Obama is re-elected, much of his second term will face major roadblocks in the House.

In California, however, because of new districts, the "top-two" primary that allows candidates of the same party to face each other in the general election, and other factors, there are more competitive races than normal.

Among the top ones to watch tonight:

- Rep. Pete Stark, D-Fremont, a 40-year House veteran, could be toppled Democratic challenger Eric Swalwell.

- Rep. Lois Capps, D-, is perhaps the most endangered Democratic incumbent in California, and faces a spirited challenge from Republican former Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado in the race to represent Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo.

- Rep. Dan Lungren, R-Sacramento, is neck-and-neck with Democrat Dr. Ami Bera.

- Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Stockton, could be knocked off by Lodi newcomer Ricky Gill, a 25-year-old Republican, because redistricting made the district more conservative.

- Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Modesto, is trying to hang on against a spirited challenge by Democrat Jose Hernandez, a former astronaut, to represent San Joaquin Valley.

- Rep. Mary Bono-Mack, R-Palm Desert, is in a close race with Democrat Raul Ruiz, an emergency room physician, in the Coachella Valley area.

- Rep. Brian Bilbray, R-Solana Beach, and Democratic challenger Scott Peters, a former San Diego city councilman, are in a close race, due to redistricting which made the San Diego-area district more Democratic.

- Finally, the battle royale between Democrats pits two incumbent Los Angeles-area congressmen whose districts were combined, Howard Berman and Brad Sherman, together in a nasty fight that in one recent event almost came to blows.

8) Election snafus

We all still remember hanging chads and Florida in 2000. Although every election has problems when machines fail, poll workers give incorrect information and other glitches surface, it's only in the very tight ones that it matters. Few Americans have the patience for another drawn-out, weeks-long legal battle. Let's hope that it doesn't come to that.

9) Will Republicans lose all power in Sacramento?

It's amazing, but in Ronald Reagan's former home state, Democrats in 2012 hold the governor's office, every state constitutional office and broad majorities in the California State Senate and Assembly. Worse for the GOP, the most recent registration totals Oct. 22 from the Secretary of State show that only 29 percent of registered voters in California are Republicans -- the lowest total in a century.

The reasons for that are myriad, from the rise in Latino population to the GOP's rigid stance on social issues like abortion which run counter to large numbers of California voters' views.

One real-life impact of the GOP's slow slide into California irrelevance, however, is the fact that Democrats needs to win only two of four competitive state Senate districts today to secure a two-thirds majority in the 40-member Senate for the first time in 47 years. That super-majority of 27 would give them the ability to raise taxes and over-ride vetoes without any way for Republicans to stop them.

Democrats also need to pick up only two seats in the Assembly for a two-thirds majority. They currently have 52 of the 80 seats there. Most political analysts say winning a super majority there is more difficult, however, given the new districts and the candidates. Republicans may even pick up an Assembly seat or two if things go their way.

10) How will America split racially?

Look around. America is changing demographically, as it has at other times in its history. It is becoming a less white, more diverse nation, driven by decades of high immigration levels and a birth rate for Latinos and some other ethnicities that is higher than the birth-rate for native-born white women.

In 1980, the lines to the polls looked a lot different than they do today: 91 percent of voters were white. By 2008, the percentage of voters who were white fell to 74 percent.

Longtime political journalists Ron Brownstein describes what he calls "the new math" of presidential elections:

"For President Obama, the winning formula can be reduced to 80/40. In 2008, Obama won a combined 80 percent of the votes of all minority voters, including not only African-Americans but also Hispanics, Asians, and others. If Obama matches that performance this year, he can squeak out a national majority with support from about 40 percent of whites-so long as minorities at least match the 26 percent of the vote they cast last time."

Mitt Romney, on the other hand, must win 61 percent of white voters, which would give him a narrow majority of total votes, as long as white voters made up 74 percent of the turnout. If they make up less than that today, or if minority groups turnout in larger numbers or percentages for Obama, the president wins re-election.

Brownstein and others say that because of the increasing diversity of the nation, this election may be the last one in which any Republican candidate can hope for a win just by securing large numbers of white voters. That could lead to a major split in the party in the coming years on issues like immigration. Republicans in California have failed to appeal to the growing Latino population, and as noted above, are nearly completely frozen out of power at all levels of state government.

Asked about the possibility of a Romney loss recently, Republican Senatory Lindsey Graham of South Carolina was blunt:

"If I hear anybody say it was because Romney wasn't conservative enough I'm going to go nuts," said Graham. "We're not losing 95 percent of African-Americans and two-thirds of Hispanics and voters under 30 because we're not being hard-ass enough."

That's a battle for another day. Tonight, follow it by watching turnout. High numbers of minority voters in urban areas is good news for Democrats. High numbers of suburban and rural white voters will keep Romney's hope alive.