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Thursday, November 13, 2008

Senate update

In the U.S. Senate, Democrats currently have 55 seats. Independents Joe Lieberman (a former Democratic Senator) and Bernie Sanders caucused with the Democrats in the latest Congress, so many analysts think that the Dems currently have control of 57 votes. Lieberman is a bit of a wild card since he campaigned for John McCain and he has been recruited by the Republican caucus.

After the 1994 Republican wave, a number of congressional Democrats became Republicans. They joined the new majority. However, it is harder to imagine Lieberman wanting to switch to the minority party after it took some serious losses at the polls. Plus, Barack Obama has expressed no hard feelings and welcomes Lieberman into the Democratic caucus.

So, it's at least possible that the Dems have 57 of 97 votes in the new Senate. What about the other 3 races?

In the ongoing Alaska count, Democrat Mark Begich has inched ahead of convicted felon Ted Stevens by a bit more than 800 votes. There are still 1000s of early and absentee votes to be counted, but these are reportedly from blue areas of the state.

In Minnesota, Democrat Al Franken trails Norm Coleman by just over 200 votes and the state will have an automatic recount. Over 437,000 people voted for the third party candidate, Dean Barkley. According to Nate Silver, there are enough undervotes in Minnesota to believe that Franken has a 50-50 chance (or better) of winning this race. Apparently, however, the recount won't finish until mid-December.

In sum, Democrats have good reason to be optimistic that they will have 59 seats in the next U.S. Senate that meets in January, 2009.

Can they get to a filibuster-proof 60 votes?

In Georgia, Republican incumbent Saxby Chambliss and opponent Jim Martin are scheduled to have a runoff election on December 2. Typically, runoff election turnout is light compared to the general election November vote. The winner of the runoff might well earn thousands of fewer votes in December than his opponent got in November.

Enthusiasm and turnout are viewed as critical in runoff elections. Obama campaign workers are apparently flooding into Georgia and John McCain campaigned in the state today.

In short, both political parties realize that Democrats could achieve a filibuster-proof 60 seat Senate majority with a victory in Georgia.

The long 2008 election cycle likely still has a month to go.

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