American voters should be forgiven for a bit of impatience when midterm election results start coming in Tuesday evening. They've been through a long and divisive campaign and they'll want to know who prevailed. But their verdict on the state of American democracy is unlikely to reveal itself quickly as the evening unfolds. Here's a guide to following the clock.
With predictions of the largest midterm turnout in more than half a century, the first polls close at 6 p.m. in parts of Indiana, where Democratic Sen. Joe Donnelly is one of the party's most endangered incumbents, and Kentucky, where a once-secure Republican seat in the House of Representatives is being strongly contested by Democrat Amy McGrath, an ex-Marine combat pilot.
At 7 p.m. Eastern time, some notable results will start rolling in from the East, though in Florida, where there are tight statewide races, 10 counties close an hour later. Voting ends in Ohio, North Carolina and West Virginia at 7:30.
If Democratic Senate incumbents Bill Nelson in Florida or Joe Manchin of West Virginia lose, Republicans probably will be adding to their two-seat majority. In policy terms, that would mean that Republicans would retain a clear path to confirm conservative federal judges and Supreme Court justices for at least another two years.
Two early-closing governors' contests could also be telling. Progressive black Democrats are running in two southern states against ardent fans of President Donald Trump. Wins by Andrew Gillum over Ron DeSantis in Florida and Stacey Abrams over Brian Kemp in Georgia would signal a new day in Southern politics and would also help Democrats shape more favorable state and congressional legislative districts after the 2020 census.
In what may be the most important outcome in the redistricting calculation, Democrats are cautiously optimistic about taking back the governorship in Ohio, where Richard Cordray, the former head of the Consumer Financial Protection Agency, is running against Republican state Attorney General Mike DeWine.
The most suspenseful national contest is the one for control of the House, and early results are unlikely to signal whether Democrats win the 23 Republican-held seats they need. But there will be some leading indicators. If Democrats pick up two or three seats in Virginia; a couple in Florida; one in Charlotte, North Carolina; and one in Ohio that they barely lost in an August special election, that augurs well for winning control. If they also win in an overwhelmingly pro-Trump district in West Virginia, the blue wave is coming.
Three important results will come in the next hour. Polls close at 8 p.m Eastern time in Texas, where the most talked-about 2018 candidate, Democrat Beto O'Rourke, is trying to upset Sen. Ted Cruz in a state dominated by Republicans for decades. And Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill is trying to hold on against a formidable challenge from another pro-Trump Republican, Josh Hawley.
By later in the 8 o'clock hour, the House outcome could reveal itself. That's when polls close in Maine, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Texas, and - yes, Dorothy - Kansas, states where as many as 20 Republican-held seats are in play. Republicans need to hold more than half of these if they hope to keep running the House.
Voting ends at 9 p.m. in Wisconsin, where Democrats are trying to deny a third gubernatorial term to one of the most resourceful U.S. politicians, Scott Walker. In a House race there, a Democratic ironworker faces an uphill struggle to take the seat vacated by retiring Speaker Paul Ryan. Four Minnesota House seats are in play, two in suburban districts where Democrats expect to pick up Republican seats and two in Democratic-controlled rural districts that may be the most-endangered for Democrats in this election.
After the 10 p.m. closings, the Senate majority should be clear with outcomes settled in two more close contests involving Democratic incumbents in Montana and North Dakota as well as for two open Republican seats in Nevada and Arizona, where Democrats are running even or ahead. On the House side, Republicans are worried about two incumbents in Iowa, and even Steve King, the white nationalist-sympathizing representative from an overwhelmingly Republican western district is being seriously contested.
In the west, California is worth watching for once. Polls close at 11 p.m. Eastern time, and there are seven or eight Republican-held seats that Democrats have targeted. If they win most of them, Democrats will be breaking out the champagne.
Albert R. Hunt is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering politics and policy. He was the executive editor of Bloomberg News, before which he was a reporter, bureau chief and executive Washington editor at the Wall Street Journal.