Free advice, take it or leave it: Don’t start obsessing about Ohio until we have a better sense of what’s happening in Virginia. Everyone’s going to go crazy when the OH early voting totals are revealed sometime after 7:30, as that’ll be the first strong sign of whether Romney’s overperforming or not. But there’s a reason I listed VA as a “prerequisite” in yesterday’s post on electoral math. Losing it won’t kill Romney but it’ll put him in the ICU; it would wipe out 13 of the 18 EVs he’s hoping to gain from Ohio. If he drops VA, then he’d have to win Ohio and Wisconsin and Iowa and another state or else somehow pull the rabbit out of the hat in Pennsylvania. Virginia is a big, big deal, and right now it’s a pure toss-up. Team Mitt likes what they’re seeing, though:

Southwestern Virginia and southwestern Pennsylvania are reportedly seeing big turnout for Romney. In both states, these are the rural conservative regions and Romney needs to run up his numbers in these areas.

Here’s the state’s page for election returns. Politico flags Henrico and Prince William Counties as ones to watch; both went for O last time. Given how tight the race is and the fact that Virgil Goode is a native son, the third-party vote here could potentially be a problem.

North Carolina is Romney’s safest swing state, so much so that I didn’t bother putting it up on the board in yesterday’s “electoral math made easy” post. RCP’s average has him ahead by three points exactly, so there’s your first benchmark in measuring whether GOP turnout nationally is higher than expected tonight. If this state is called early, that’s a good omen. If Obama somehow makes a contest of it, might be time to start drinking. You can follow the returns here.

Now for the big one. O led by 2.9 points in the final RCP average but anecdotal reports today are promising. First, a shot of optimism from Ari Fleischer:

Early voting is up in red counties and down in blue counties from 2008, which is what you’d expect and necessary for a Romney win. WaPo has a nice rundown of benchmarks for key counties: O’s aiming for close to 70 percent in Cuyahoga County, a la what he pulled in 2008, and he’s hoping to cut into Romney’s advantage in Delaware County the way he did to McCain, winning 36,000 votes there versus 27,000 for Kerry in 2004. Franklin County has gotten more Democratic over the last three elections, with Obama winning it in 60-39 four years ago, and both sides are hoping to win Hamilton County, which was reliably red until O won it in 2008. Here’s the Secretary of State’s page for returns. You can click the link there to view by county.

We’ve got a handy dandy Townhall election widget in the front page sidebar for you to follow results. Politico has a county-by-county map of the whole country to help simplify things too. And here’s the livestream for Ed and Guy Benson co-hosting the Hugh Hewitt show. One bit of recommended reading before we get into updates and results: This piece from National Journal explains in detail why Ohio’s rules for provisional ballots might, might lead to a weeks-long clusterfark a la Florida 2000. If you think Romney (or Obama) will win handily tonight then it’s no sweat, but do note that the candidates themselves are well prepared for this eventuality. Romney allegedly has a “go team” ready to roll.

Update: Mitt projecting confidence:

Speaking with reporters on his campaign plane for the last time, Mitt Romney revealed that he’s only written one speech so far.

“I just finished writing a victory speech,” he told the travelling press. “It’s about 1,118 words. And, uh, I’m sure it will change before I’m finished, because I haven’t passed it around to my family and friends and advisers to get their reaction, but I’ve only written one speech at this point.”

Update: The polls in Indiana closed at 6 p.m. ET. Victory is a foregone conclusion there for Romney but not for Richard Mourdock. As I’m writing this, the Indiana Secretary of State’s page is slow so I’m tracking returns on Politico’s page.

Update: Not unexpected, but not good either:

Update: It’s still early in Indiana but David Freddoso notices that Mourdock is underperforming McCain’s county numbers thus far — in a state that McCain lost narrowly. Ari Fleischer sees positive signs for O in Indiana too, but we’ll need Virginia numbers before we can try to deduce any national trends.

Update: Chris Cillizza of WaPo tweets that the bellwether counties in Virginia are Prince William and Loudoun. Both went to Obama in 2008 and then to Bob McDonnell in the gubernatorial race in 2009.

Update: A case study in why you shouldn’t trust early exit polls. According to CNN, the partisan split in Ohio tonight is D+7, which nearly equals the D+8 that Democrats produced in Obama’s wave year of 2008. No way is that correct.

Update: There’s good news in the dubious exit polls too.

Update: Another bellwether for you to watch in Virginia: Fairfax Villa in Fairfax County.

In 2004, John Kerry won Fairfax County, but lost Virginia 54-46. To be precise, Bush got 53.7% in Virginia. He got 52.5% in Fairfax Villa.

In 2008, Virginia voted 52.6% for Obama, and Fairfax Villa voted 53.0% for Obama.

A year later, in the governor election, the precinct and the state swung back to Republicans, big time. Virginia voted 58.6% for Bob McDonnell, and Fairfax Villa voted 60.1% for McDonnell.

Update: With nearly 15 percent reporting, Mourdock trails Joe Donnelly by two-tenths of a point.

Update: Over at the RCP live blog, Sean Trende is watching Virginia: “But with 77% in, Chesterfield [County] is 45% for Obama. That’s what he got last time. If that holds, it is very difficult for Romney to win.”

Update: Why Virginia is close:

Update: Consensus on Twitter right now among experts I follow, including Trende, is that Romney isn’t doing what he needs to do in the suburbs in Virginia to turn the state red. It’s still early and college towns appear to be underperforming for Obama, but the state looks to be close, which is in line with the RCP average showing Obama up by less than half a point. Voting in the state could be extended for hours tonight, so if you haven’t gone yet, now’s the time.

Update: Extremely early in Ohio but unless I’m misreading this, the Secretary of State has already posted the early voting totals. O leads right now by roughly 190,000 votes, which is just about what Jay Cost estimated this morning. Obama’s early vote lead from “strong” blue counties versus “strong” red counties four years ago was 323,000.

Update: Don’t give up on Virginia yet:

Update: Another hopeful sign from Conn Carroll: Romney’s up by 12 with 80 percent reporting in Chesapeake County, which Obama won narrowly four years ago.

Update: With 26 percent in, Romney’s lead in North Carolina is less than a point. But Jim Geraghty reports that the mood among GOP insiders about NC, FL, and especially VA has improved markedly in the past half hour or so.

Update: Meanwhile in Indiana, hopes of repealing ObamaCare are waning. Mourdock trails by more than three points with more than 45 percent reporting.

Update: Back in Virginia, Romney’s atoning for his underperformance in Chesterfield County with big numbers up north:

Ben Domenech also now thinks Romney will hang on in Virginia. Fingers crossed.

Update: Patrick Ruffini spies a 16-point swing against Obama in Arlington County and is now wondering if Virginia might even be called for the GOP before Florida.

Update: Erika and MKH have you covered in Pennsylvania and Michigan, but I’m hearing that news outlets just called the Senate race in PA for Bob Casey and the presidential race in MI for Obama at the top of the hour. That takes one potential Romney longshot state off the table and makes Pennsylvania seem unlikely. But then, Ohio and Wisconsin have always been our best bets.

Update: Tim Carney, who noted Fairfax Villa as a key bellwether in one of the updates above, is in Fairfax County tonight and doesn’t like what he sees. Interesting difference of opinion right now between him and Trende on the one hand and Rove and Ruffini on the other about Romney using northern Virginia to pull this out.

Update: With 62.5 percent reporting and more than six and a half million votes counted, Romney leads in Florida — by 12,000 votes. Bush/Gore deja vu!

Update: Oof — multiple news outlets now calling Pennsylvania for Obama. That leaves Minnesota as the only longshot on the table for Romney. If, as expected, that goes blue too, then he needs to win either Ohio or Wisconsin. And if Virginia slips through his fingers, he’ll need to win both.

Update: Some quick and dirty electoral math for you now that Michigan and Pennsylvania are off the table. If Obama holds on in Minnesota and Nevada, which he’s expected to do, then he’s at 243 electoral votes. Florida has 29, so if he pulls the upset there, then he doesn’t need any other state. He’d be at 272 and that would be it. Romney desperately needs to hold that slim lead in FL. If instead O pulls an upset in Virginia, that would put him at 256. He could get to 270 then with Ohio or with Wisconsin plus any other state or with Colorado plus Iowa.

Update: Oh boy. Fox News just called Wisconsin for Obama. All down to Ohio now for Romney. He needs to win OH + FL + VA + one other state.

Update: CBS just called New Hampshire for Obama, which simplifies things. If Romney doesn’t hold on in Florida, Virginia, and North Carolina and win Ohio and Iowa or Colorado, he’s done.

Oh: And Fox News just called the Indiana Senate for Joe Donnelly.

Update: With nearly 80 percent in, Obama’s actually ahead in Florida by 14,000 votes. And the word on Twitter is that he’s doing well in the bellwether counties.

Update: ABC just called Minnesota for Obama so all the longshots are now off the table. I assume Nevada will be called within the next 20 minutes or so (it’s 9:55 p.m. ET right now), which means Romney’s remaining path will be basically set. FL + VA + NC + OH + either CO or IA. Or bust.

Update: The good news is, with almost 77 percent in, Romney holds a lead in Virginia of nearly 90,000 votes. The bad news is in Florida, where, with 87 percent in, Obama’s clinging to a 37,000-vote lead. At the RCP blog, Tom Bevan says the remaining precincts there should favor … Obama.

Update: As noted above, Obama leads in Florida by 37,000 votes. Right now, Gary Johnson has … 39,000 votes.

Update: Elsewhere, in the suddenly forgotten state of Ohio, Obama holds a 90,000-vote lead with roughly half the state reporting.

Update: As of 10:30 ET, Romney’s ahead in the national popular vote by 1.3 million votes. Only eight percent of New York has reported, though, and none of the west coast has come in yet, so expect that to disappear quickly. Realistically, if Obama’s on his way to 300 or so electoral votes, he’s not going to lose the popular vote.

Update: O’s up by only 16,000 votes in Florida with nine percent of the state still be counted, but a big chunk of that is in Miami-Dade County, where 30 percent of the vote is still outstanding. That’s Obama’s stronghold; assuming that remaining 30 percent trends blue, he’s going to pad his lead, not lose it.

Update: At 10:54 ET, Romney finally wins the swing state that everyone thought would be easy pickings. The AP just called North Carolina for him. With nearly 98 percent reporting, he leads by two points. Meanwhie, with two-thirds of the vote in, Obama continues to lead in Ohio by 80,000 votes.

Update: Just as I’m reporting the first big Romney victory of the night, the Denver Post is calling Colorado for Obama. That makes the math easy: Romney now needs Ohio, Florida, Virginia, and Iowa. A loss in any of those states ends it.

Update: I’m hearing that George Allen has conceded to Tim Kaine in the Virginia Senate race, which bodes ill for Romney’s chances. He leads by 13,000 votes but there are blue counties still to come in. Larry Sabato called the state a likely win for O just 10 minutes ago.

Looks like the writing’s on the wall. The networks are holding off on calling these states, I think, simply because it amounts to calling the entire election.

Update: NBC just called Iowa for Obama. Assuming all the calls made by the networks are correct tonight (some Republicans are holding out hope for Wisconsin, although it’s been called by both Fox and ABC), then the election’s all but over. We’re just waiting on Nevada now, O’s strongest swing state, to clinch 271.

Update: At 11:13 ET, NBC calls Ohio for Obama. Fox follows a minute later. Ballgame.

Update: Assuming O holds on in Florida and ekes it out in Virginia, he’ll have swept all the swing states except NC and will finish with 332 electoral votes, not far off the pace from the 365 he won four years ago. Nearly four years of a miserable economy plus hundreds of millions of dollars in conservative campaign spending was worth 32 electoral votes. Indiana and North Carolina, essentially.

Update: I guess it’s time.

Update: This result is so bad that I think we need to double dip on misery videos. Did the Democrats actually pick up Senate seats this year?

Update: At 12:40 a.m., both the AP and CBS are calling Virginia for Obama. He’s over 300 EVs now, I believe. Still waiting on Florida, where he leads by 50,000 votes with 97.5 percent reporting. He’s ahead in the popular vote now too, with most of California and 20 percent of New York still to report.