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Stevens Ousted; Democrats Eye Power of 60

Josh Kraushaar

Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, talks with reporters on Tuesday, Nov. 18, 2008, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Lauren Victoria Burke)

The Democratic
pursuit of 60 Senate seats received new life Tuesday night after Alaska
Democrat Mark Begich was declared the winner against Ted Stevens, the
longest-serving Republican in the Senate.

Begich defeated the Senate giant by a 3,724-vote margin after absentee
and early votes were counted, a stunning end to a 40-year Senate career
marred by Stevens' conviction on corruption charges a week before the

Begich's victory gives Democrats their 58th Senate seat, with the party
still awaiting a pending recount in the too-close-to-call Minnesota
Senate race and the Georgia Senate runoff next month. If Democrats win
those two seats, they will reach a filibuster-proof majority in the

Democratic prospects of reaching 60 seats didn't look so bright the day
after the election. In Alaska, Stevens led Begich by more than 3,000
votes. In Minnesota, Republican Sen. Norm Coleman was holding a narrow
lead. GOP Sen. Gordon Smith had not yet been declared the loser in the
Oregon Senate race and in Georgia, Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss was
just over the 50 percent mark necessary to win re-election in Georgia.

But over the ensuing two weeks, the landscape began to tilt in the
Democrats' favor. The Associated Press declared Jeff Merkley the winner
over Smith in Oregon, Coleman's lead shrank to 215 votes, Chambliss
fell just short of the 50 percent threshold necessary for an outright
victory, and Begich captured a majority of the nearly 90,000 absentee
and early votes that were counted after Election Day to win the Alaska
Senate seat.

Now, with the prospect of 60 Senate seats hanging in the balance, both
parties are throwing everything they can at the two remaining
undeclared races, pouring money, lawyers and field organizers into
Georgia and Minnesota.

Developments on the ground suggest Democrats have a fighting chance of picking up both seats.

In Minnesota, Coleman's razor-thin, 215-vote lead could easily
dissipate as election officials hand count all 2.9 million ballots over
the next several weeks. His campaign has already sounded alarms about
Franken's small gains during the post-election recanvassing process,
and has criticized Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie as an
unabashed Democratic partisan.

The Coleman campaign was deprived of a symbolic victory when Ritchie
decided not to certify Coleman's lead on Tuesday, opting to wait until
the recount process is complete. For its part, the Franken campaign is
seeking to count thousands of rejected absentee ballots, which could
potentially overturn Coleman's lead. The canvassing board delayed
ruling on that Tuesday.

Minnesota election law has a liberal interpretation of voter intent, so
as long as voters make their preference clear on the ballots, they will
likely have their votes counted-even if the vote wasn't tabulated on
the machine. Over 24,000 ballots that recorded votes in the
presidential race didn't record a tally in the Senate race. (The
Coleman campaign said most of these voters simply didn't vote in the
Senate race.)

Meanwhile, in Georgia, Democrats believe they have a shot at picking
off Chambliss' Senate seat now that the race is heading into a runoff,
likely a low turnout affair where get-out-the-vote efforts will prove
critical. Chambliss dramatically outspent Martin in the general
election, $11 million to $2.5 million, but still failed to avoid a
runoff. Now, as the campaigns essentially start from scratch, Martin
will be at financial parity and aided by scores of leading Democratic

Democrats' recent success in getting out the vote has left Martin's
campaign guardedly optimistic. While Barack Obama lost the state by
five points, he came closer than most recent Democratic presidential
candidates, boosted by the record high level of turnout among
African-Americans across the state.

Martin has been trying to energize Democratic voters- particularly the
state's substantial black vote - by connecting his campaign to Obama.

Both of Martin's television ads have made ample use of Obama -one
featured his victory speech footage in Grant Park - and his campaign
recycled a radio advertisement Obama recorded on Martin's behalf during
the general election.

Obama's campaign organization has also been tapped on Martin's behalf.
Immediately after the presidential election, the 25 Obama field offices
in the state were converted into Martin offices, and dozens of Obama's
field organizers throughout the South were dispatched to Georgia to
help turn out the vote.

Democrats believe that if most black voters who turned out in record
numbers for Obama come out again and support Martin in the December 2
runoff, they will have a good chance at winning.

Former President Bill Clinton is heading to Atlanta Wednesday to rally
Democrats and former Vice President Al Gore is following suit on Sunday.

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