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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.

By Chris Cillizza  |  November 6, 2008; 2:51 PM ET
Categories:  Senate  
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Why is chris making sny predictions about the Alaska senate seat? My understanding is that there are some 50-60,000 votes still to be counted. Many of which were early votes that have favoured Bagich by about 20%. This could blow Stevens lead away very quickly...

Posted by: the_skilled99 | November 8, 2008 2:58 PM | Report abuse

Don't rule out State Senator Kwame Raoul to replace Barack in Illinois. He is the man who replace Barack in the Senate and brings many of the same qualities that made Barack a success. He is well respected, hard working and would win Blaqo some much needed applause from his media critics while helping to secure the African-American and liberal independent vote.

Posted by: IllinoisArgonautSolutions | November 7, 2008 11:35 AM | Report abuse

The Alaska election is peculiar. With Palin and Obama on the ballot, why would there be with a significantly lower turnout than in 2004? Can large-scale fraud be ruled out?

Posted by: Renu1 | November 7, 2008 10:28 AM | Report abuse

The following states have Democrat governors and Republican Senators. Thus, any of these Senators leaving the Senate could set up the opportunity for a new Democrat Senator and bring us closer to 60 Democrat Senators. Each state has their own rules of succession, so not all of these could work, Wyoming is one example of a Senate vacancy being filled by a Senator of the same party. I listed the governor first, followed by the state and the Republican Senators.

Bev Perdue North Carolina Richard Burr
John Lynch New Hampshire Judd Gregg
Jay Nixon Missouri Christopher Bond
Janet Napolitano Arizona John McCain, Jon Kyl
Chet Culver Iowa Charles Grassley
Kathleen Sebelius Kansas Pat Roberts, Sam Brownback
Steve Beshear Kentucky Jim Bunning, Mitch McConnell, (yeah right!)
John Baldacci Maine Olympia Snow, Susan Collins
Ted Strickland Ohio George Voinovich
Brad Henry Oklahoma James Inhofe, Tom Coburn (imagine him as the budget director!)
Edward Rendell Pennsylvania Arlen Spector
Phil Bredesen Tennessee Bob Corker, Lamar Alexander
Dave Freudenthal Wyoming Mike Enzi, John Barrasso (they have to be replaced by members of the same party.)

Posted by: gckarcher | November 7, 2008 1:19 AM | Report abuse

Down to 236 votes in Minnesota. I'm wondering if Al Franken passes up Sen. Coleman in votes before the official recount starts whether Coleman will stand by his pledge that if the situation were reversed he would concede. Might get to find out soon.

Posted by: jdunph1 | November 6, 2008 8:45 PM | Report abuse

I cannot believe hardly anyone is investigating the Alaska Senate race.
How is it that in this election, where voter turnout EVERYWHERE is up, it is DOWN by 14% when the state's governor is on the ballot!?!?!

Even the usually unflappable Nate Silver of cannot believe it:


Posted by: kiernanje | November 6, 2008 5:58 PM | Report abuse


Mike Castle will be 71 years old in 2010. Would he really risk a safe house seat for a run at the senate. Wouldn't that make him one of the oldest first term senators ever?

Posted by: pondhouse1444 | November 6, 2008 5:21 PM | Report abuse

What is amazing about the voting in AK is that turnout was pretty bad -- currently at 45.1% with additional absentee ballots to count. Compared with the national average of about 61%, it looks like the Alaskans stayed home. Maybe that's why the crooks got re-elected.

Posted by: mnteng | November 6, 2008 4:53 PM | Report abuse

Chris deserves credit for partially calling this potential upset in Alaska with its past history.
Something's not exactly right though in Georgia where Senate ballots look mysteriously undercounted relative to the presidential race.
If Jim Martin can force a runoff it's a brand new race next month with us potentially having 59 Senate seats. Should be interesting.

Posted by: jdunph1 | November 6, 2008 4:29 PM | Report abuse

Coleman's lead is actually now down to 342 votes, and seems to be dwindling every few hours. Everyone thought this would be the closest race. But, it's hard to believe it's this close. All it takes here is one vote every 9 precincts to overcome the deficit.
What did the election Tuesday night say about the people of Alaska? I try to give voters the benefit of the doubt most of the time. But, these results are simply dumbfounding to everyone who closely follows congressional races. How? Why is it even close in either of these races?
Simply surreal are the only two words that come to mind in describing Alaskan voters now.
Hopefully, for they're sake Mark Begich can overcome this deficit in provisional and absentee ballots. Regardless--unbelievable.

Posted by: jdunph1 | November 6, 2008 4:22 PM | Report abuse

I have no dog in this race but for me it would be anybody but Jessie Jackson Jr. He is campaigning too hard for this and sounds like he "deserves it." He sounds too much like his old man to me, expecting things to be given to him just because....... We just had an election that repudiated that philosophy. Go out and earn it! The next campaign starts tomorrow.

Posted by: Opa2 | November 6, 2008 4:21 PM | Report abuse

Expect a HUGE battle in Georgia.

Hope Tammy makes it in Illinois.

Posted by: wpost4112 | November 6, 2008 4:04 PM | Report abuse

Interesting that the voters of Alaska have apparently placed the Senate in the position of having as its first order of business the expulsion of Ted Stevens. Amazing!

Posted by: OHIOCITIZEN | November 6, 2008 3:56 PM | Report abuse

Thanks for the bold analysis!

Posted by: Blarg | November 6, 2008 3:51 PM | Report abuse

Well if Missouri can elect a dead man, then I guess Alaska can elect a convicted felon.

Posted by: DonJasper | November 6, 2008 3:47 PM | Report abuse

MN recount update: the Sec 'o State now has the margin down to 337 votes. It has also been reported that the optical scan machines occasionally miss ballots, so the numbers will likely continue to change, until the manual recount is complete.

Posted by: bsimon1 | November 6, 2008 3:41 PM | Report abuse

A QUESTION: Would so many races be so tight if all of the electronic voting machines used this year (to record about a third of all votes) produced a voter-verified paper trail?

And because most touchscreen systems do not produce a paper trail, how will that impact on the fairness and integrity of these recounts?

Could it be that these races will be decided by absentee ballots, most of them covering from persons aboard -- i.e., military voters?

Does this sound a bit like the year 2000?

Is anyone at all concerned about these questions? Will Congress just forget about voting processes until the next election two years hence?


Not as long as government-supported extrajudicial "vigilante injustice" squads are "gang stalking" American citizens, making a mockery of the rule of law:




Posted by: scrivener50 | November 6, 2008 3:34 PM | Report abuse

As I understand it, Beau Biden is in the Judge Adjutant General's office. Ignoring my distaste for inherited democracy, if that is what Delaware wants then fine, why can't one of the outgoing senators take Beau's place? If Beau is in the JAG's office, all the Army needs is a lawyer, not a combat soldier, and Beau can go to Washington.

Posted by: caribis | November 6, 2008 3:24 PM | Report abuse

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