Decisive majority still within Democrats’ reach

Wins in two outstanding races would give party decisive control of U.S. government

Al Franken by Aaron Landry via flickr

Al Franken by Aaron Landry via flickr

Filed Nov. 21 2008

WASHINGTON—The U.S. election is not yet over. President-elect Barack Obama is shifting back into campaign mode to help Democrats reach their once-fanciful goal of a decisive Senate majority.

Democrats need two more seats to reach magic number 60. That’s how many votes parties need to avoid the filibuster—an opposition delaying tactic—and force through legislation.

The seats would come from Georgia and Minnesota, where two close Senate races failed to produce election-night winners.

Mr. Obama is hitting the airwaves in Georgia, where Republican incumbent Sen. Saxby Chambliss and Democratic challenger Jim Martin will face-off on December 2, since neither candidate earned 50 percent of the vote. Mr. Chambliss fell just short with 49.8 percent, making victory a long shot for Mr. Martin.

Democrats’ hopes in the run-off depend on their ability to re-ignite voter enthusiasm and mobilize turnout. That’s where Mr. Obama comes in.

“I want to thank everybody who turned out and voted for me in November. Together we can get America moving again,” Mr. Obama said in the radio ad. “I want to urge you to turn out one more time and help elect Jim Martin to the United States Senate.”

Defeated Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain has also joined the fray. He appeared in Georgia just a week after his loss to campaign for Mr. Chambliss.

The freshman senator was considered a shoe-in for re-election before the economic meltdown put him on the ropes, along with several incumbents in traditionally safe Republican states.

In Minnesota, the contest between Republican Sen. Norm Coleman and Democrat Al Franken remains too close to call. The initial count had Mr. Coleman ahead by 215 votes. But with 46 percent of the ballots recounted on Friday, his lead had slipped to 136. The state will also review several hundred rejected absentee ballots, pushing a final decision into next month.

If the Democrats get 60 Senate seats along with their expanded majority in the House of Representatives and Mr. Obama in the White House, the party will have the most control over government in decades. Like a majority government in Parliament, they will have virtually unchecked power to pursue their agenda.

Last week the party took a step closer to 60 when Republican Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska, who was convicted before the election on corruption charges, finally conceded to Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich. Mr. Stevens had led in the tally on election night, but the Democrat pulled ahead once absentee ballots were counted.

So on Thursday Mr. Stevens, the Senate’s longest-serving Republican delivered his farewell speech on the Senate floor.

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