It is possible for Democrats to gain the seats needed to reach a filibuster-proof 60 votes in the Senate in 2008, but it will take running the table in a number of undecided elections.
Running the table means that almost every close election must be won by the Democratic candidate. This is a difficult, but not impossible, task. Indeed, Democrats grabbed control of the Senate in 2006 by doing just that:
- Democrat Jim Webb won the Virginia seat held by Sen. George Allen (R) by fewer than 10,000 votes.
- Jon Tester (D) knocked off Sen. Conrad Burns (R) in Montana by about 3,000 votes.
- In Missouri, Claire McCaskill (D) upset Sen. Jim Talent (R) 50% – 47%.
- Rhode Island’s popular Sen. Lincoln Chafee (R) was ousted by the anti-GOP tide and Sheldon Whitehouse (D).
Presently, Democrats cling to a 51 – 49 majority in the Senate, with one of those 51 the independent-tilting-Republican Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut. The Lieberman seat is an important one to factor in any calculation about the balance of power in the Senate.
Unlike in the House of Representatives, it generally takes 60 votes in the Senate – more than a simple majority – to win approval of controversial legislation.
Can Democrats grab 60 votes in 2008? Most certainly, but don’t bet the mortgage on it no matter how much housing prices have sunk in the current market.
As they say in sports broadcasts, let’s go to the scoreboard.
51 The number of seats presently held by Democrats, including two independents, Lieberman and Vermont’s Bernie Sanders. There is no Democratic seat seriously in jeopardy, although Sen. Mary Landrieu (D) – currently polling ahead — always has a tough contest.
+1 Virginia: This race was over when former Governor Mark Warner (D) entered the contest and Rep. Tom Davis (R) decided he could not win the Republican nomination. Virginians will trade one Warner for another when Mark Warner takes the retiring John Warner’s (R) seat.
+1 New Mexico: Democrats picked the perfect candidate for retiring Sen. Pete Domenici’s (R) seat in Rep. Tom Udall while Republicans chose conservative Rep. Steve Pearce (R) in a primary over a more moderate candidate who would have put up a better fight.
+1 Colorado: Tom Udall’s cousin Rep. Mark Udall (D) has enjoyed a modest but constant lead over ex-Rep. Bob Schaffer (R) and should capture the seat of the retiring Sen. Wayne Allard (R).
+1 Oregon: One Udall cousin (yes, Smith is related to both Udalls running for Senate) is probably not returning to the Senate as Jeff Merkley (D) has opened up a small but consistent lead over incumbent Sen. Gordon Smith (R). The Democratic tide is probably too strong for Smith, who has tried to grab the coattails of Barack Obama, Ron Wyden, Ted Kennedy and other Democrats.
+1 New Hampshire: In a rematch of the 2002 contest, former Gov. Jeanne Shaheen (D) has held a steady if not huge lead over Sen. John Sununu (R) and should continue the Democratic takeover in a once rock-ribbed GOP state.
+1 North Carolina: Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R) has been trailing her Democratic opponent state Sen. Kay Hagan for a while and is likely to go down to defeat.
+1 Alaska: The jury verdict is in — and Sen. Ted Stevens (R) is likely out. On Oct. 27, a Washington, DC jury found Stevens guilty on all counts. While Boston has had Mayors who spent part of their terms in jail, Alaska is likely to choose Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich (D).
58 The new total if Democratic candidates pick up all seven of these seats.
4 toss-ups or leaning R
?+1 Minnesota: Al Franken (D) has overcome a number of hurdles to claim a narrow front-runner status over Sen. Norm Coleman (R), but the contest is too close to call and is complicated by independent Dean Barkley who is capturing 15% – 20% in the polls.
?+1 Mississippi: Appointed Sen. Roger Wicker (R) has held a huge fundraising lead over former Gov. Ronnie Musgrove (D), but the Democrat has kept it close.
?+1 Georgia: Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R) appeared to be cruising to an easy victory until ex-state Representative Jim Martin (D) suddenly caught up in the polls. Chambliss, who dumped former Sen. Max Cleland (D) in a dirty campaign in 2002 might just end up dumped himself in 2008.
?+1 Kentucky: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R) finds himself in a close contest against Bruce Lunsford (D). While McConnell leads, an incumbent under 50% at this point is in serious trouble.
60 votes: Democrats must win 2 of the 4 contests – depending on what happens to Sen. Lieberman
?-1 Connecticut: Does Joe Lieberman jump or get pushed from the Democratic caucus?
For current polling, check out Council for a Livable World’s constantly updated list of polls: