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Presidential election: How soon will someone win so we can go to sleep? (+video)

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(Read caption) Liz Marlantes explains the candidates' focus at the end of the campaign.
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When will someone win the presidential election so we can all go to sleep? That’s the question that lots of people asked us while we waited in line to vote Tuesday morning. We can’t answer that for sure, but it’s possible to pinpoint when the US public might begin to get hints as to how the 2012 vote will play out. Here’s a quick rundown so you can plan when to walk the dog/check kids’ homework/make a burrito run to Chipotle.

First, a technical note – some states have split poll closings, with voting in different counties ending at different times. We’re ignoring that for the sake of simplicity.

That said, the first point at which something exciting can occur might be 7 p.m. That’s when the polls in six Eastern states close, with Virginia being the most important. Formerly solid red, Virginia has become much more of a swing state due to the fast growth of the D.C. suburbs in the northern part of the state. President Obama won there in 2008 by more than eight percentage points, but averages of major polls have the Old Dominion as a tossup in 2012.

Mitt Romney badly needs Virginia’s 13 electoral votes if he’s to put together the 270 he needs for victory. That means that if the networks call it quickly for Mr. Obama, it might be time to start plumping the bedroom pillows.

At 7:30 p.m., the polls close in Ohio. Do we even have to describe how important Ohio is to the calculations of both campaigns? It’s the state Obama has visited the most during the campaign, though there’s no truth to the rumor he’s had his middle name changed to “Columbus." If Ohio is called quickly for one candidate or the other, it could be a great portent of victory; that’s unlikely to happen, though, given the closeness of state polls and the large number of provisional ballots that Ohio election officials expect to wade through.

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