Without using a crystal ball, here are a few key things to look for as you settle in tonight to watch the election returns.
1. Virginia. The final polls in this battleground state give the edge to Sen. Barack Obama by four or five percentage points. If you look at the polls for other states, Obama could already have pocketed 260 electoral votes. Virginia has 13 electoral votes and its polls close at 7 p.m. Eastern. If the networks and the Associated Press call Virginia for Obama soon after the polls close, Sen. John McCain will be forced to win in some blue state elsewhere on the map, which is highly unlikely. An Obama win in Virginia means an early win for the Democrat.
2. For the record, Obama has big leads here. These are the blue states on the map that have given Obama the edge going into today's election because they total 260 electoral votes: California (55 electoral votes), New York (31), Illinois (21), Pennsylvania (21), Michigan (17), New Jersey (15), Massachusetts (12), Washington (11), Maryland (10), Minnesota (10), Wisconsin (10), Connecticut (7), Iowa (7), Oregon (7), New Mexico (5), Maine (4), Hawaii (4), Rhode Island (4), Delaware (3), District of Columbia (3), and Vermont (3).
3. McCain must sweep the battleground table in order to win. This is what makes it so difficult for the Republican to come out ahead tonight. In order to overtake Obama, McCain must win in Florida (27 electoral votes), Ohio (20), North Carolina (15), Virginia (13), Indiana (11), Missouri (11), and Colorado (9). That puts him at 266. He would then need either Nevada (5) or New Hampshire (4). Lose any one of those states (or both Nevada and Montana) without taking a blue state by surprise and Obama becomes president. Montana at 3 electoral votes does not help.
4. McCain has to defend his own turf. In addition to winning all of those key battleground states, McCain must successfully defend his red states. These are states where McCain seems to be safely ahead in the polls. They are Alabama (9 electoral votes), Alaska (3), Arizona (10), Arkansas (6), Georgia (15), Idaho (4), Kansas (6), Kentucky (8), Louisiana (9), Mississippi (6), Nebraska (5), North Dakota (3), Oklahoma (7), South Carolina (8), South Dakota (3), Tennessee (11), Texas (34), Utah (5), West Virginia (5) and Wyoming (3). But remember, some polls have him in trouble in Georgia and Arizona. So McCain has no guarantee of winning in these states like Obama has in winning his blue states.