(Natalia Kolesnikova/AFP/Getty Images)

MOSCOW – Russians kept a lively watch overnight on the U.S. elections. The government-supported 24-hour television station provided constant, and straightforward, coverage. Independent newspapers blogged, and the world of Twitter buzzed with who was ahead and where.

Vladimir Milov, a critic of President Vladimir Putin, said his countrymen were captivated by the novelty of the U.S. presidential election. “We don’t know how it will turn out,” he said late Tuesday night – in contrast to every Russian election of the past decade.

Milov was rooting for President Obama, though many in the opposition here were for Mitt Romney because of his tough talk on Russia. They were hoping he would knock some heads and set Putin right on democracy and human rights.

As President Obama took the lead, the Russian speculation turned to practical matters – conjecture about who will be the next secretary of state, an officeholder who has a more regular relationship with Moscow than the president.

Hillary Rodham Clinton has said she intends to leave office soon, and early Wednesday the tweets in Russia were calling it for Sen. John Kerry, the Massachusetts Democrat.

The other State Department employee in the public eye is Michael McFaul, the U.S. ambassador, who as a political appointee would have been quickly called home had Romney prevailed.

For McFaul and his family, the vote meant four more Moscow winters, or a return to their home in California. Talk about close ones.