Republican Power in Senate under Threat

While the rest of the country is settling down after months of presidential, congressional and gubernatorial races, the states of Georgia and Minnesota are still going strong.

After reaching a split in favor of the Democrats 2006, the Democrats ended things off on November 4 with a net gain of 5 seats in the Senate, bringing their total to 54, with 2 Independents that generally caucus with the Democrats. This brought them 4 seats away from a filibuster-proof Senate. The number was reduced to 3 seats on November 6 when Oregon Republican Senator Gordon Smith conceded to Democratic rival Jeff Merkley, losing by roughly 40,000 votes. While it is likely that that the Democrats can win over a handful of moderate Republicans to their cause, such as Lindsey Graham (R-SC), the margin might become even slimmer if the current razor-close elections in Minnesota and Georgia go against the Republican incumbents.

In Minnesota, Republican Senator Norm Coleman was leading Democratic rival Al Franken by only 221 votes out of over 3 million– triggering a recount under Minnesota law. This small lead might be upset further by a recent ruling by a judge who denied a request from incumbent Republican Sen. Norm Coleman’s campaign to block certain uncounted absentee ballots from being counted in a race.

According to CNN.com, November 9, 2008:

According to the court request, the Coleman campaign sought an “emergency temporary injunction” preventing election officials from unsealing, opening, or tallying any absentee ballots that were not inside an official ballot box by midnight election night.

Specifically, the Coleman team was looking to block 32 uncounted ballots from the city of Minneapolis, according to the campaign in the request. They say they were notified late Friday night that these ballots were to be counted the next day.

The recount could take as long as a month, according to Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, “as equipment and numbers are checked to make sure every eligible ballot has been gathered and as each ballot is visually inspected while representatives from the campaigns watch.”

Another race that is heading into extra innings is the Senate race in the state of Georgia. The incumbent, Republican Senator Saxby Chambliss amassed 49.8% of the vote, close– but not enough to guarantee him another six years in the Senate. According to Georgia law, since neither Sen. Chambliss or his Democratic challenger Jim Martin received more than 50% of the vote– largely due to Libertarian Allen Buckley, there is a runoff election on December 2nd. Voter turnout for the runoff is expected to be low— and both Republican and Democratic candidates are reaching out to constituents. Chambliss has received support from Republican presidential candidate John McCain, and Martin has turned to President-elect Barack Obama.

A Democratic win in Minnesota and/or Georgia would bring the magic number down to 2 or even 1. While these probable numbers do not put the Democrats in the safe zone, it brings them within a comfortable reach of it.

Republican power in the Senate could be further diminished by the all but likely expulsion of Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AS). Even though Stevens managed to stave off his Democratic rival Mark Begich on November 4 by a slim margin, he is facing significant pressure from members of his own party to step down.

According to Erika Bolstad of the McClatchy Newspapers, November 10, 2008:

They include Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., who was among those to call for Stevens to step down in the wake of the Alaska Republican’s Oct. 27 conviction on seven felony counts of failing to report gifts and services, including renovations that doubled the size of his Alaska home.

DeMint’s fellow Republican from South Carolina, Sen. Lindsey Graham, called on Stevens to step down, too, as did Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain of Arizona and his running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin….

McConnell has said that if Stevens is re-elected and “the felony charge stands through the appeals process, there is zero chance that a senator with a felony conviction would not be expelled from the Senate.”