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Poised for results: early states could determine the presidency

The longest day in the lives of political candidates, their supporters and those of us who make a living watching it all is, blessedly, almost ready to give up the goods.

The polls in the parts of Indiana and Kentucky that are in the eastern time (ET) zone are scheduled to close at 6 p.m. eastern, the earliest in the country. And by the time the rest of the polls in those states close at 7 p.m. Eastern (6 p.m. Central), they’ll be joined by those in all of Georgia, South Carolina, Vermont and Virginia, and the majority of the voting stations in Florida, those located in the eastern zone.

This grouping of early states includes Indiana, Georgia, Virginia and Florida, which are expected to be bellwethers of whether Democrat Barack Obama will win the presidential contest by a comfortable margin - as a number of polls and prognosticators have predicted - or if Republican John McCain has fought back in the campaign’s closing days to ensure that the contest will be decided only have a long and anxious night of coast-to-coast vote counting.

President George W. Bush won all of those states by significant margins in 2004, but Obama has „expanded the playing field” for the Democrats by seriously competing for the electoral votes in all of those states. Also in play in those states are contests for the open Republican Senate seat in Virginia, which appears a virtually certain pickup for Democratic former Gov. Mark Warner, and late-developing but threatening challenges for the Republican seats held in Kentucky by current Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and in Georgia by Saxby Chambliss.

The outcomes of these races should give a strong indication of whether the expected gains by the Democrats tonight will be just big - or super-sized. These states also are home to 22 of the House races that CQ Politics has rated slightly to highly competitive, most of them bids by the House Democratic majority to take over turf currently held by the Republicans. We’ll be bringing you the results for these races and all the others across the nation all night long. The waiting is the hardest part... (