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Obama’s Coattails Can Be Measured Tonight

On the eve of every election, a list of small questions can often help answer the big question underlying what happens on Election Day.

In 2004, the big question was whether the red-blue divide was growing sharper or less intense. In the 2006 midterms, it was how big the Democratic wave was going to be.

This year, it’s all about the size of the impact that presidential nominee Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) will have, both in geographical reach and in shaping the results of downballot elections.

Does he draw enough young and black voters to the polls to push Democratic Senate and House candidates to victory? Does he run well in states and regions, such as the South, where Democrats have been having trouble in recent years? And does his impact extend to races for governor, state legislature and attorney general — and even to key ballot initiatives?

Here are 10 questions that address these issues. We’ve provided a scoring system for each one that, when aggregated, should suggest just how far-reaching Obama’s impact will be. Enjoy watching the results roll in — and the number-crunching.

1. How many of the following states both vote for Obama and elect the Democrat in a competitive, Republican-held Senate contest, rather than splitting their tickets?

The Senate seats are those held by Republicans Norm Coleman (Minn.), Susan Collins (Maine), Elizabeth Dole (N.C.), Gordon Smith (Ore.) and John Sununu (N.H.) and those being vacated by Republicans Wayne Allard (Colo.), Pete Domenici (N.M.) and John Warner (Va.).

Eight states: Six points

Seven states: Five points

Six states: Four points

Five states: Three points

Four states: Two points

Three states: One point

Fewer than three states: Zero points

2. In 17 of the most reliably Republican states in recent elections, how many points better than 2004 Democratic nominee Sen. John Kerry (Mass.) does Obama do?

The states, along with their 2004 percentage for Kerry, are: Alabama (37); Alaska (36); Arkansas (45); Georgia (41); Idaho (30); Kansas (37); Kentucky (40); Louisiana (42); Mississippi (40); Nebraska (33); Oklahoma (34); South Carolina (41); South Dakota (38); Tennessee (43); Texas (38); Utah (26) and Wyoming (29).

19 or fewer cumulative points improvement: Zero points

20 to 39: One point

40 to 59: Two points

60 to 79: Three points

80 to 99: Four points

100 to 119: Five points

120 or more: Six points

3. How many GOP-held Senate seats in the South do the Democrats win?

The main seats being contested in the South are the Warner open seat in Virginia, plus the seats held by Dole, Roger Wicker (Miss.), Saxby Chambliss (Ga.) and Mitch McConnell (Ky.).

One seat: One point

Two seats: Two points

Three seats: Three points

Four seats: Four points

Five or more seats: Five points

Extra credit: Does Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) win re-election? If yes, add one point; if no, subtract one point.

4. How many of the following competitive House races in the South do the Democrats win?

The seats are those held by John Barrow (D-Ga.), Don Cazayoux (D-La.), Travis Childers (D-Miss.), Thelma Drake (R-Va.), Virgil Goode (R-Va.), Robin Hayes (R-N.C.), Nick Lampson (D-Texas), Jim Marshall (D-Ga.) and John Yarmuth (D-Ky.), and the open seats being vacated by Bud Cramer (D-Ala.), Tom Davis (R-Va.), Terry Everett (R-Ala.) and Ron Lewis (R-Ky.).

Zero to two seats: Zero points

Three or four seats: One point

Five to seven seats: Three points

Eight to 10 seats: Five points

11 to 13 seats: Six points

Extra credit: For any GOP-held House seat in the South not listed here that flips, add an extra point.

5. How many GOP-held House seats do the Democrats flip in the following presidential battleground states?

The states are: Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia.

Zero seats: Zero points

One or two seats: One point

Three to five seats: Two points

Six to 10 seats: Three points

11 to 15 seats: Four points

16 or more seats: Five points

6. How many Democratic-held House seats do the Republicans flip in the following presidential battleground states?

The states are: Arizona, Florida, Indiana, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Wisconsin.

Six or more seats: Subtract two points

Four or five seats: Subtract one point

Two or three seats: Zero points

One seat: Add one point

Zero seats: Add two points

7. How many of the following 2008 gubernatorial races do the Democrats win?

The states are: Indiana, Missouri, North Carolina, Vermont and Washington.

Five wins: Six points

Four wins: Five points

Three wins: Three points

Two wins: Two points

One win: Zero points

Zero wins: Subtract two points

8. How many of the following Republican- held state legislative chambers are the Democrats able to flip?

The chambers are: Alaska Senate, Arizona House, Arizona Senate, Delaware House, Montana House, New York Senate, North Dakota Senate, Nevada Senate, Ohio House, South Dakota Senate, Texas House and Wisconsin Assembly.

10 or more chambers: Six points

Eight or nine chambers: Five points

Six or seven chambers: Four points

Four or five chambers: Three points

Three chambers: Two points

Two chambers: One point

One or zero chambers: Zero points

Extra credit: For any other GOP-held legislative chamber that Democrats flip, add one point.

9. How many of the following 2008 state attorney general races do the Democrats win?

The states are: Indiana, Missouri, Montana, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Washington and West Virginia.

Eight wins: Six points

Seven wins: Five points

Six wins: Four points

Five wins: Three points

Four wins: Two points

Three wins: One point

Two wins: Zero points

One or zero wins: Subtract one point

10. How will voters react to key ballot measures? Will voters in California, Colorado and Missouri approve clean-energy measures supported by environmentalists? And will voters approve bans on gay marriage (in Arizona, California and Florida) and a ban on gay adoption (in Arkansas)?

Energy measures: Passage earns one point per state; rejection earns zero points.

Gay marriage/adoption measures: Rejection earns two points per state; passage earns zero points.

Now, for the final ratings, add up the points from each question and use the scale below to gauge how strong the Obama effect was.

50 points or more: Very strong

40 to 49 points: Strong

30 to 39 points: OK but not great

20 to 29 points: Disappointing

10 to 19 points: Very disappointing

Nine or fewer points: Democrats, go back to the drawing board.

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