The State of the Senate
UPDATE, 5:30 pm: The Minnesota Senate race continues to tighten. Al Franken now trails Sen. Norm Coleman by just 336 votes -- and the race seems more likely than ever to go to a full manual statewide recount later this month.
Two days after the Nov. 4 election, the state of the Senate remains somewhat uncertain.
There are still three Senate races that remain either too close to call or headed for a recount/runoff, and two looming appointments for the seats currently held by Barack Obama and Joe Biden.
With so many questions still swirling around the World's Most Exclusive Club, we thought it might be a good idea to run down where things stand in each of these contests.
Alaska: Amazingly, Sen. Ted Stevens (R) looks as though he will be reelected to a seventh term over Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich (D). With 99 percent of precincts reporting, Stevens leads Begich 48.2 percent to 46.7 percent -- a margin of just less than 3,500 votes. Begich has yet to concede as 60,000 (or so) votes were cast early or absentee. If Stevens does get reelected, then the fun really begins. If Stevens resigns or is expelled from the chamber, a special election would be triggered within 60 to 90 days of the vacancy. But, state law is conflicted as to whether Gov. Sarah Palin (remember her?) would be allowed to appoint a senator in the interim or whether the seat would remain vacant until the special election.
Delaware: The obvious choice to replace Biden is his son Beau who is currently the Delaware attorney general. The problem? Beau is set to be deployed to Iraq for a year-long tour -- making his appointment impossible in the short term. It's possible outgoing Gov. Ruth Ann Minner (D) could appoint herself as a caretaker until Beau Biden returns but that scenario carries risk as Rep. Mike Castle (R) is already preparing to run for the seat in the 2010 special election for the remaining four years on Biden's term. If Minner appoints herself or some other caretaker to buy time for Beau, it all but hands Castle a year-long head start.
Georgia: Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R) is currently two-tenths of a percent short of the 50 percent vote share he needs to avoid a Dec. 2 runoff with former state Rep. Jim Martin (D). Ninety-nine percent of precincts are reporting and Martin has already said he is preparing for a runoff. Chambliss starts the runoff with a clear edge -- not only because of the fact that he won 100,000 more votes than Martin on Tuesday but also because it's hard to imagine Democrats will be able to recreate the turnout in the black community in early December.
Illinois: As we wrote earlier this month, the appointment of Obama's successor depends on the thinking of just one man: Democratic Gov. Rod Blagojevich. Blagojevich, whose approval ratings are some of the worst in the country, is still mulling the possibility of seeking a third term in 2010 and his own political future is sure to factor into this pick. Among the names currently being mentioned: Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs head Tammy Duckworth, Reps. Jan Schakowsky and Jesse Jackson Jr., senior Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett, outgoing state Senate President Emil Jones Jr. and Secretary of State Jesse White.
Minnesota: One of the longest and nastiest Senate races in the country, it going to go on a while longer. With 100 percent of precincts reporting, Sen. Norm Coleman (R) is leading comedian Al Franken (D) by 437 (!) votes out of more than 2.4 million cast. Such a close margin will trigger a full statewide manual recount that won't begin until mid-November and might not conclude until next month. Coleman is declaring victory but the Associated Press has taken back their call of him as the winner and Democrats' attitude is that anything can happen in a statewide manual recount.
Oregon: State House Speaker Jeff Merkley (D) scored a narrow victory over Sen. Gordon Smith (R) in the Beaver State this morning. Merkley had slowly but surely expanded his vote totals over the last 24 hours and led by roughly 40,000 votes when the Associated Press called this race around noon eastern time. The race was far closer than many Democratic political operatives believed it would be but it now appears that Merkley has gone over the top.
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