Katharine Seelye's front-page "Election Night (Popcorn Included)," an hour-by-hour guidefor interpretingtonight's electoral results, contained several dire predictions for McCain and the future of the GOP if various states (including Indiana, Virginia, and New Mexico) go for Obama.
On the other hand, Seelye warned that if McCain managed to win Pennsylvania, it would not be a crushing blow for Obama, but would instead bring up deep concerns about latent racism and the (perhaps mythological) "Bradley effect," in which white voters lie to pollsters, saying they favor a black candidate, but then vote for the white one.
FIRST BITE The suspense starts in Indiana. Most polls close at 6 p.m. and others at 7. Indiana is a ruby red state where Mr. Obama has been running closely with Mr. McCain. Be wary of results that do not include Gary, a city with a substantial African-American population. If Mr. Obama wins it, Indiana could be the canary in the coal mine predicting disaster ahead for Mr. McCain.
APERITIF Also at 7 p.m., polls close in Virginia and Georgia, and polls close in most of Florida and New Hampshire.
All eyes will quickly veer to Virginia, which Mr. Obama has labored to win. If he succeeds in the former capital of the Old Confederacy, he will most likely do exceedingly well the rest of the night. Subtracting Virginia from the Republican column would give Mr. McCain very few routes to 270 electoral votes.
New Hampshire is less predictive. But it would be a bad sign for Mr. McCain if he cannot capture these mavericks, whom he has been courting for eight years.
PALATE CLEANSERS At 7:30, polls close in Ohio and North Carolina. While Ohio is the bigger prize, keep your eyes on North Carolina (where officials have the option of keeping the polls open until 8:30 if there are problems). North Carolina is a red state that is newly competitive, again thanks to an aggressive Obama ground organization. If North Carolina votes for Mr. Obama, the map is likely to bleed blue for the rest of the night.
Pennsylvania, of course, is the keystone to Mr. McCain's survival strategy: It is the one big blue state where he has staked his claim, in anticipation of losing some smaller red states. If Mr. McCain wins Pennsylvania, it would keep him alive and scramble the picture for Mr. Obama. And it would lead to grave pronouncements about racism and the so-called Bradley effect of whites not being honest about their preferences to pollsters. Surveys of voters leaving the polls in the April primary found that 19 percent said race played an important role in their decision (as they delivered the state to Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton by nine percentage points over Mr. Obama).
New Mexico also closes at 9 and is another red state that Mr. Obama has worked hard to turn blue. About three in every eight voters here are Hispanic; an Obama win would signal an important shift by Hispanics away from the Republican Party.