The morning after, everything seems clear.
The partying is over, the pounding headache lingers, but somehow all the doubt and uncertainty and second-guessing are gone. All that's left are the easy explanations.
Welcome to the morning after Election Day.
In Virginia, it was Nov. 9. Democrat Timothy M. Kaine had been elected governor, and suddenly his electoral strategy was declared brilliant, while that of his opponent, Republican Jerry W. Kilgore, was relegated to the junk heap of political campaign history.
It's not true, of course. There are a million ways Kaine's campaign might have failed, most of which would have been out of his control. And Kilgore's plan, though ultimately unsuccessful, could easily have delivered a candidate to the governor's mansion on another day.
So what are the questions left unresolved by the Kaine victory? Here are five:
* The Potts factor: He never surged in the polls. In fact, you would be excused if you forgot he was even in the race by the end. But the presence of state Sen. H. Russell Potts Jr. (R-Winchester) might have affected the outcome in ways that will never be known.
His criticism of Kilgore was relentless and extreme. He called Kilgore a coward and handed Kaine a perfect issue: making the refusal to debate Potts an issue of character. How much did that matter?
* The accent: Except for a brief exchange very early in the year, Kilgore's twang never emerged publicly. But whether because of self-consciousness or a focus group, Kilgore was less of a presence on the trail or in his ads than Kaine or Potts.
Do people have a gut feeling when it comes to such things as accents? Do voters close their eyes and try to imagine a guy like Kilgore going toe-to-toe with big-time Democrats on "Meet the Press" and then pull the lever for Kaine? There were no poll questions about accents, leaving us guessing.
* The exurbs: Conventional wisdom says the outer suburbs are becoming more moderate, more -- gasp -- Democratic. How, then, to explain President Bush's easy victories in those suburbs just a year ago?
Did Kaine's slow-growth messages work? Or maybe Kaine, a Catholic, energized his faith's followers in that part of the state. Or maybe Bush's voters, angry with their president, stayed home to send him a message. The point? Maybe we don't know why the exurbs voted for Kaine.
* Immigration: In polls, very few voters say illegal immigration is their top issue, but those who do are extremely passionate about it. So did Kilgore's raising the issue in a last-minute ad help or hurt?
We'll probably never know. By the time he ran the ad, the electorate was furious with the negative tone of his campaign. The immigration issue never caught fire, but it might have inspired those passionate few -- on both sides -- to go to the polls.
* Taxes: Perhaps no issue is more opaque today than that of Virginia's state of mind regarding taxes.
On the one hand, Kaine's victory could be read as a referendum on the anti-tax movement. Even Grover Norquist, the granddaddy of the starve-government crowd, would be hard-pressed to claim victory after Tuesday's results.
Kilgore threw every anti-tax message he could think of at Kaine, and the voters yawned. "He'll increase the gas tax!" Kilgore roared. Yawn. "Largest tax increase in Virginia history!" Kilgore yelled. Yawn.
But be careful about declaring the end of anti-tax sentiment in the commonwealth.
Potts, after all, dropped like a stone when? After he said the state needed to raise $2 billion from taxes to finance a transportation construction boom.
And, Potts aside, this governor's race was no test between a pro-tax Democrat and an anti-tax Republican. Kaine took every opportunity to deny that he wanted to raise taxes and even led voters to believe it would take a near-miracle to convince him that a gas tax increase was necessary.
In fact, as far as taxes go, the voters might have taken Kaine at face value and concluded that there was no real difference between him and Kilgore. Now the question will be whether Kaine governs according to that perception.
Outgoing Gov. Mark R. Warner (D) created a similar perception in 2001 ("I will not raise taxes.") But voters forgave him after he convinced them that circumstances demanded a $1.5 billion tax increase.
Kaine might convince them again. But he'd be ill-advised to think that the results of the election mean they don't care about taxes.
Things just aren't that clear-cut.