This thing could be over real early, or last all night.

During the day, keep an eye out on turnout, especially in the big cities in the east. In Philadelphia, if turnout in areas with a heavy African American population tops 70%, this will be huge for Obama. Kerry won Philadelphia by about 415,000 votes. Obama will look to top 450,000, in order to feel good about Pennsylvania.

At 7:00 pm EST, the first states close their polls. These are Vermont, Indiana, Kentucky, Virginia, South Carolina, and Georgia. Vermont will go Obama, with Kentucky and Georgia going to the McCain column. South Carolina’s polling numbers are close, but I expect McCain to win there without much drama. You can get an early idea of where things stand based on early results from Indiana and Virginia. Virginia looks ripe for Obama to pick, so I would not be stunned to see him win there. If Obama is up or very close in Indiana, this could be a short night for McCain.

At 7:30 pm EST, North Carolina, West Virginia, and Ohio close their polls. The election could be decided here. West Virginia should hold for McCain – but North Carolina and Ohio are absolutely critical for him. If Obama wins either, McCain basically has to win Pennsylvania, Florida, and most of the undecideds to have a shot.

8:00 pm EST could be the end for McCain, or the start of a very long and confusing night. Somewhere around 16 states close their polls at this time, including three hotly contested states – Pennsylvania, Florida, and Missouri. At this point, if McCain has managed to hold onto North Carolina, Indiana, and Ohio, he’s still in the game. He has to win two of the three aforementioned states closing in this time slot to stay alive. We’ll say he wins Florida and Missouri and loses PA.

If that’s the case, and the west falls as expected – Obama sweeps the coast and the rest of the Rust Belt, while McCain holds onto the Midwest and South as expected, it will leave us at 268 to 247 Obama, with only four states left – New Hampshire, Colorado, New Mexico, and Nevada. McCain would have to sweep those four, all of whom are currently polling in favor of Barack Obama.

The path to victory is very small indeed for John McCain, to the point where he could do exactly as above, win Pennsylvania and still lose the election if he loses those four tossups I just talked about.

So if early on, Barack Obama wins in North Carolina, Indiana, Ohio, Missouri, or Florida… well, it’s over.