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The Home Stretch

Want to watch election returns like a pro? Keep an eye on these places

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.The Boston Globe

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Here’s the catch about watching the returns on Election Night: Things kind of move at the glacial pace of a Red Sox/Yankees game. For every split-second homerun moment like calling Florida or Pennsylvania, there are a lot of slow-moving stretches that involve pundits like Rahm Emanuel and Chris Christie second-guessing the candidates for where they traveled in the final days of the campaign.  

If you’re looking to spice things up a bit for next week, you can arm yourself with Twitter fun facts if you track results in specific counties in the swings states. Truthfully, there is no perfect system for this, and it’s hard to argue that any one county is going to be the bellwether for a state, let alone the country. But here are a few tips to get you started.

Pennsylvania

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The good news is that no state has a better system for reporting results than Pennsylvania, which allows you to go here and click on a big map of the state that gives you results in each county. You can even bookmark your favorite counties ahead of time, but don’t get fooled into believing Jo Jorgensen is currently winning (those are just dummy results you’re seeing right now).

The bad news is Pennsylvania’s count is expected to be among the slowest in the country, in part because mail ballots won’t begin to be tallied until the morning of Election Day. That means it could take several days to know a true winner, and your poor fingers might be sore from all the refreshing.

Still, there are two counties in particular to keep an eye on, and they couldn’t be farther from each other on the map: Philadelphia and Erie. Philly will undoubtedly support Joe Biden, but the turnout and margin of victory is what you want to watch. A big question will be whether Biden can score 600,000 votes there, which would exceed Barack Obama’s performance in 2008. In the northwestern part of the state, Erie voters strongly supported Obama in 2008 and 2012, but flipped to Trump in 2016.  

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North Carolina

There are many who believe that any path to an Electoral College victory for Trump requires a win in North Carolina, and New Hanover County is the area to watch. (You can bookmark this page now.) It’s home to Wilmington, and it was the largest county in the state to support Trump over Clinton in 2016, albeit very narrowly. Obama also had tight losses there in 2008 and 2012, so a Biden victory this time around could offer a prediction for how the rest of the state goes.  

Wisconsin

The results website here doesn’t appear to be as friendly as in Pennsylvania or North Carolina, but it’s hard to ignore the importance of the Badger State. This is another place where there are many places to watch, but no one would question your judgement if you paid special attention to Waukesha County (where Trump won big in 2016). Remember, Trump’s margin of victory in the entire state was under 23,000 votes, so if there’s any place where you can argue that every vote matters, it’s Wisconsin.

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Florida

You can’t make a list like this and not include Florida, and there are plenty of places to monitor. Miami-Dade, the largest county, is going to be Biden country, but it’s another place where he’ll need to run up the score if he’s going to win statewide. Two under-the-radar counties to watch are neighbors Hillsborough and Pinellas, near Tampa. Hillsborough has delivered small wins to Democrats in recent presidential cycles, but Pinellas flipped from Obama to Trump in 2016.

Arizona

We have to show a little love for the other side of the country, and the obvious place to watch is Maricopa County, which includes Phoenix. It has voted reliably Republican in presidential races, but Trump won by a razor-thin margin in 2016. Biden has been clinging to a narrow lead statewide, according to polls, and most experts believe Maricopa County will be the difference maker.

The 2nd congressional districts in Maine & Nebraska

Last one, and these are districts rather than counties. Remember, Maine and Nebraska are the only two states in the country that award Electoral College votes by congressional district. While on the whole, Trump is expected to easily win Nebraska and Maine is expected to go for Biden, the 2nd congressional districts in each state could have a different result, meaning Biden could peel off an electoral vote in Nebraska, and Trump could do the same in Maine. 

Read an important story you may have missed:

Tar Heel time:

Tension is high in North Carolina, a critical state in both the presidential race and the battle for control of the US Senate. Except for 2008, the Republican presidential nominee has won the state in every election dating back to 1980, but this year, President Trump has found himself in a dead heat with Biden. Read more.

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An eye on Maine:

Four years ago, Trump trounced Hillary Clinton in Charleston by nearly four to one, a stark contrast with her narrow victory statewide. And despite near-daily turbulence from the White House, Trump’s impeachment, and a pandemic that has killed more than 220,000 Americans, the president’s message continues to resonate here — even if polls indicate his support is ebbing elsewhere in the district. Read more.

Control of the Senate:

The polling is such that analysts are starting to believe this could be a wave election that carries Democrats to big gains in the Senate, beyond the handful of seats they need to regain control. Read more.

The battle for the Senate:

It could take at least another week - after the election - for all the mail-in ballots to be submitted in Alaska’s newly interesting contest, two weeks for all the ballots to be counted in Arizona’s hot race, it will take time for ballots to be reprocessed for ranked-choice voting in Maine to determine a winner, and there could be a crazy post-November campaign in Georgia. Read more.

Ranked-choice voting:

Governor Charlie Baker said Tuesday he will vote against the state’s ranked-choice voting ballot measure, making the Swampscott Republican the most high-profile public official to come out against Question 2. Read more.

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Where the candidates are tomorrow:

 President Trump made campaign stops in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Nebraska on Tuesday. On Wednesday, he holds MAGA rallies in Arizona.

Joe Biden held campaign events in Georgia on Tuesday. No public events have been announced for Wednesday.

What the polls say:

Rasmussen Reports has pretty consistently been the only poll that has shown Trump leading nationally, but its daily tracker from Monday showed Biden ahead by a tiny margin.

Learn something new:

— Personally, I’d rather spend three hours listening to “The College Dropout” on repeat, but Joe Rogan’s very long interview with Kanye West was hard to get away from. Listen here.


Dan McGowan can be reached at dan.mcgowan@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at @danmcgowan.