OK, so maybe we did have to wait 37 days to find out who won in 2000; and maybe it took until dawn two years ago to know that Bush had won a second term. But that doesn't mean you early-to-bed types won't have important clues to the big stories tonight. Here's an hour-by-hour guide to some of the key questions we'll be asking:
1. A flood or a trickle?
There are five endangered Republicans in Indiana and Kentucky, and one in New Hampshire; and two Democrats in Georgia (just about the only two vulnerable Democrats anywhere). If Democrats net three or more from these contests, a takeover of the House is highly likely. View House real-time results
2. An Ohio disaster? (Ohio closes at 7:30 p.m.)
The Republican Party here has been mired in scandal -- the economy is underperforming; expectations are that they will lose every statewide office by huge margins, and a Senate seat as well. There are four or five GOP House seats that could fall as well. Here is where the vaunted GOP turnout machine won Bush a second term in 2004. Can the GOP machine do it again? View Ohio real-time results
3. As Virginia goes, so goes the Senate?
Democratic hopes for six Senate seats are rooted in Virginia, thanks to George Allen's missteps and a more Democratic tinge to the state up North. If Allen holds on, it makes a Democratic takeover just about impossible. View Virginia real-time results
4. Presidential coattails?
Bush campaigned in both Georgia districts where Democratic incumbents are vulnerable, and in Mike Sodrel's Indiana district. If these three races go GOP, it may tell us that the president still has political clout where it matters.
1. How did race play?
African-American candidates are running for the Senate in Maryland and Tennessee. Did Maryland's Lt. Gov. Michael Steele, a black Republican, cut into traditionally Democratic black voters enough to take this seat? Did race matter more or less with Rep. Harold Ford, a black Democrat in a tight election fight? Democrats are increasingly nervous about holding the Maryland Senate seat, considered a lock barely a month ago.
2. Have Democrats found a "social values" issue?
A proposal to fund embryonic stem cell research is on the Missouri ballot; Democrat Claire McCaskill favors it; Republican Jim Talent opposes it. (This was where the Michael J. Fox ad controversy erupted).
We may learn whether Democrats can put proposals on the ballot to gin up their base as Republicans have done with gay marriage, or it may backfire by turning out a conservative base that might otherwise have stayed home. The Most Rev. Raymond Burke, archbishop of St. Louis, had a recorded message opposing the stem-cell issue in all St. Louis parishes last Sunday. Read more about key issues
3. The Lieberman factor?
The Democratic "netroots" -- Web-based bloggers and activists -- were critical in the victory of Ned Lamont over Joe Lieberman in the August Democratic primary in Connecticut. The Democratic establishment supported Lamont once the primary was over, in part (I think) to avoid being targeted by the netroots. Now, Lieberman will almost surely win.
Will the netroots turn their anger on other Democrats who supported the war in Iraq as '08 begins, or will they decide that without appealing to the middle, their candidates can't win?
4. Will "reverse coattails" doom the Pennsylvania GOP?
Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell of Pennsylvania is heading for a landslide win; Sen. Rick Santorum trails his foe (although some polls show this race tightening). There are three or four GOP House members whose survival depends on turnout. Will top-of-the-ticket woes keep GOP voters home? Or did the last-minute "you-can't let-those-lefty-nuts-take-over" appeal work? View Pennsylvania real-time results
1. Hillary, Hillary, Hillary?
So, did she win by "enough" to make a case for herself for '08? What if she doesn't match New York Sen. Chuck Schumer's 71 percent re-election margin in '04; what if shoo-in gubernatorial candidate Eliot Spitzer leaves her in the dust? Sure it's an idiotic way to measure HIllary's presidential chops -- but it's inevitable. View New York real-time results
2. A moderate GOP rout?
Sen. Lincoln Chafee in Rhode Island, and five or six House members in New York State alone are in danger of losing their seats. Along with moderate Republicans in Ohio, New Hampshire and Pennsylvania, they could go down to defeat, leaving the House caucus even more conservative than it is. Are they an endangered species or nearing extinction?
3. The immigration factor
House districts in Colorado and Arizona saw primary victories by strongly anti-immigration Republicans. In both cases, the retiring Republican House members refused to endorse them. These races may tell us just how potent immigration is as a voting issue this year. Read more about the immigration battle
4. How big a loss?
By this hour, we may not only know the fate of the House, but just how deep anti-Republican sentiment is running. If Rep. Jim Ryun loses in Kansas, if Charles Bass has lost in New Hampshire, if other once-solidly safe GOP districts are (or are not) falling, we'll know more about how to measure the losses for the GOP. Read more about the balance of power
1. Is the West turning blue (or purple)?
Along with Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona, which close earlier, this hour will bring us results from Montana, Nevada and Wyoming. This night could result in governors in five of the eight interior Western states, a new Democratic senator from Montana, and House gains for Democrats in New Mexico. This could have big implications for '08.
2. Did the Rove machine sizzle or fizzle?
Karl Rove's "72 hour" operation made the difference in '02 and '04. We should know sometime in the next hour if it saved the GOP from disaster or whether outside factors were simply too strong.
3. The shape of the Senate
Beyond the question of control, we may know how close Democrats came. If they have 48 to 50 seats, it means that some of Bush's more controversial efforts -- especially, say, in the naming of federal judges -- are doomed, even if Democrats don't have control. (The judicial filibuster lives!) View Senate real-time results
4. How "blue" a House?
It will make a big difference if Democrats have a three- to four-seat majority, or a 15-seat majority. A narrow win puts a lot of power in the hands of moderate-conservative Democrats -- a few of whom may not even back Nancy Pelosi for speaker. And if Pelosi is speaker, it makes some of the early decisions -- committee chair, leadership posts -- potentially contentious. View House real-time results
1. "Ahnold, Ahnold, Ahnold"
Left for dead a year ago, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger rebounded by cutting deals with the very Democrats and "special interests" he denounced all through '05. Is there a lesson here for Republicans in deep blue states?
2. Glitches, recounts, voter chaos?
How did the new electronic gee-whiz thing machines do? Are there key races --maybe even control of Congress -- awaiting the outcome of close races, or legal fights over machine malfunctions, vote fraud, or voter suppression?
3. Did the exit polls work?
Any embarrassments, recalls, canceled projections will come clear.
4. Who's looking good or bad for '08?
If an anti-Washington mood prevailed, does that mean good news for governors, such as Mitt Romney of Massachusetts, and mayors, including Rudy Giuliani of New York, who are thinking of running? Do centrist Democrats, such as Sen. Evan Bayh of Indiana or Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware, look better than Clinton? Do outcomes of the "race races" tell us anything about Barack Obama of Illinois? And will we let anyone govern for a few weeks before turning to '08?
Of course, for pure sadistic enjoyment, the best thing to hope for is that Republicans gain seats in both houses of Congress. Since absolutely no one --not even the Republican national chairman -- is predicting that outcome, it will leave those of us who explain American politics sounding like Jackie Gleason's Chef of the Future ("hominaominahoina...").
Do you have reactions to tonight's results? Projections for 2008? Let us know.