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, its 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. Weve provided a scoring system for each one that, when aggregated, should suggest just how far-reaching Obamas 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.