Filed Oct. 20 2008
WASHINGTON—Democrats need nine more seats to gain decisive control of the Senate in the forthcoming U.S. election. It’s a long shot, but an increasing possibility.
Senate Democrats currently enjoy a slim 51-49 majority, thanks to two independent senators who vote with them. But the magic number isn’t 51, it’s 60. That’s how many votes parties need to avoid the filibuster—an opposition delaying tactic—and force through legislation.
Twenty-three Republican seats are up for re-election this year, compared to 12 held by Democrats. At least a dozen of the Republican seats are vulnerable
Democrats need to win three seats left open by retiring Republicans; three or four seats in northern states that have been leaning to the left; and, most difficult, two or three seats in traditional Republican strongholds.
If they get 60 Senate seats, along with an expanded majority in the House of Representatives, and Barack Obama in the White House, the Democrats would have the most control over government in decades.
Like a majority government in Parliament, they would have virtually unchecked power to pursue their agenda.
The 100 United States senators each serve six-year terms, with one third up for re-election every two years.
Senate races usually favour incumbents. But this is a tough year to run as a Republican, with the economy in shambles and a deeply unpopular Republican president in office.
Democrats are expected to gain in Virginia, where former Governor Mark Warner is almost certain to capture the state’s open seat.
Meanwhile, Democratic cousins Mark and Tom Udall are favoured to win open seats in Colorado and New Mexico.
Next, Democrats are taking aim at Republican seats in four northern states: Maine, Minnesota, New Hampshire, and Oregon.
Their best shot is in New Hampshire, where Republican Sen. John Sununu is facing fierce competition from a former governor.
Two months ago, Minnesota Democrat Al Franken, the former Saturday Night Live comedian, was having trouble being taken seriously in his bid to unseat the Republican incumbent. Recent polls show the race is a dead heat.
Even if Democrats will seats in all those four states, they would still need to capture two more in normally safe Republican states.
In the last month, their options have expanded to include Alaska, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi and North Carolina.
Well-known Republicans such as North Carolina Sen. Elizabeth Dole, wife of former presidential candidate Bob Dole, and Kentucky’s Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader, are fighting for their political lives.
In Alaska, the longest-serving Republican senator in history, Ted Stevens, is expected to lose after being convicted last Monday of corruption and lying.
To reach 60, Democrats will also need to keep all 12 of their seats in contest this year. But that’s the easy part; none is considered vulnerable.