Have cable news on and Secretary of State sites loaded up? Good, let's all start looking for interesting nuggets as the returns from this off-year election night start coming in. At the Gawker Decision Desk tonight is Peter Feld.

When an incumbent runs for reelection, it all comes down to whether or not people think he's doing a good job, not a normal comparison between two candidates. Love him or hate him, Mike Bloomberg is sweeping toward a third term not because of his heavy spending or his weak opponent, as the credulous local press thinks, but because his job approval rating is 60%. New Jersey proves the same rule from the opposite direction: Gov. Jon Corzine's approval is about 35%, so even in a heavily Democratic state, he'll be lucky to scrape by. And! There's a Virginia governor's race, a special election for Congress upstate, big mayors' races in Boston, Detroit, Miami, Houston, Seattle, Pittsburgh and Atlanta, and gay marriage is on the ballot in Maine and Washington.

Yes, Bloomberg's spending wildly. He's hired half the city's Democratic consultants just to tie them down, robo-calling everyone who still has a land line, stuffing your mailbox, and taking out redonkulous ads like one in the Jerusalem Post edition that comes with the Sunday NY Post. His consultants have a vested interest in convincing a very rich man to spend a lot of money he won't miss. But they can't take credit for making the sun rise.

And sure, Bill Thompson's a weak opponent. He explains why NYC's Dems, despite a 4-1 voter registration advantage, incredibly haven't elected a mayor since the 1980s. As a fixture in local politics for the last few decades, one suspects that if Thompson had any stirring leadership qualities we would have seen them by now. He's made Bloomberg's override of term limits the center of his campaign. But the sad reality is people care more about quality of life than the niceties of the political process. If they like the incumbent, they don't even look at the challenger, those are the rules. You can't beat someone the voters don't want to fire.

But if you're an incumbent who the voters do want to fire, like poor Gov. Corzine with his 58% disapproval rating, is all lost? Well, you still have one option: disqualify your opponent. Making voters hate him even more than they hate you. Which explains the relentless, ungracious ads attacking Republican Chris Christie. Driving up Christie's negative ratings — together with the Democrats' strong edge in New Jersey, and the presence of independent candidate Chris Daggett to drain the anti-incumbent vote (as well as the all-important Chris vote) — is what has Corzine clinging to life. But that doesn't mean he'll pull through.

Join me below in the comments as the returns come in.

UPDATE, 11:30: Tonight's 49%-45% loss for New Jersey's Democratic governor Jon Corzine to Republican Chris Christie is a blow to Barack Obama, as is the 18-point victory in Virginia for Republican Robert McDonnell over Democrat Creigh Deeds.

But the President's biggest headache is likely to be blowback from the narrower-than-expected victory of Michael Bloomberg, edging Bill Thompson by just under five points, 51%-46%, after Obama gave Thompson only the most grudging of endorsements and declined to invest any political capital in the race. Democrats are going to look at this near-miss with anger, and at a time when Obama is already under fire from Democrats for falling short of last year's promised changes, and losing ground to Republicans in NJ and Virginia, he's likely to bear the brunt of the recriminations.

Those (like me, above in this post) who derided Mayor Bloomberg's huge spending as excessive now look a little silly: Just as JFK's father infamously forbade his son from buying one more vote than necessary — "I'll be damned if I'll pay for a landslide" — Bloomberg's $100 million campaign now looks to be a model of efficiency. (On the other hand, the heavy spending may have turned voters off.)

For the President, and liberals, the special election in upstate NY is one bright spot. Democrat Bill Owens is holding a reliable lead of 49%-45% over Conservative Doug Hoffman after Republican Dede Scozzafava withdrew, with 84% of the vote counted.

In Maine, supporters of gay marriage are narrowly behind, 48%-52%, with 76% of the vote in (with a number of Portland votes yet to be counted). But gay marriage holds a narrow, 52%-48% lead in Washington State, with 42% of precincts reporting.