U.S. media ready for possible early election outcome

Wed Oct 29, 2008 3:21am EDT
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By Steve Gorman

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - U.S. television news teams that sent election-night viewers to bed without a sure winner in the last two presidential races now face what many political pundits expect to be a swifter outcome next Tuesday.

With Barack Obama consistently leading pre-election opinion polls, network news executives are ready for the possibility that the Democratic nominee could emerge early in the evening clearly headed for victory over Republican rival John McCain.

If, as widely predicted, Obama captures such critical states as Virginia, Florida, Ohio and Indiana -- where polls close by 8 p.m. Eastern time or earlier -- experts say he would be well on his way to winning the White House before the Western half of the country finishes casting ballots.

"If Obama wins those early, then that's a landslide ... and that means basically the story's going to be over by 8:30, so then they've got to decide what they're going to do for the rest of the evening," independent media analyst Andrew Tyndall said.

But if McCain scores an early upset in Pennsylvania, another Eastern battleground, "they'll know that it's going to be a long, long night," he said.

Network officials doubt they will feel confident enough to declare an overall winner before polls close in the West. And they insist there is plenty to keep viewers tuned in late, including whether Democrats can attain a filibuster-proof majority of at least 60 seats in the U.S. Senate.

Still, a lop-sided result for Obama would pose a rare challenge for broadcast news veterans accustomed to the kind of neck-and-neck race that kept audiences up until the early hours for the presidential elections of 2000 and 2004.

GETTING IT RIGHT   Continued...