Senate picture looks rosy for Democrats

As Republicans face an across-the-board meltdown, is a filibuster-proof majority in the cards?

Published October 6, 2008 11:35PM (EDT)

With even the most dedicated Republicans admitting that the GOP's in a bad way, it's not surprising that the damage has leaked down from the top of the ballot.

A pair of polls posted at Political Wire show hitherto-safe Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) in a toss-up race for reelection. Chambliss joins not-quite-neighbors Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R-N.C.) and Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) in an unexpected struggle for a supposedly safe seat. All this seems to confirm the point made in the last week by both Nate Silver and Politico: Senate Republicans are facing catastrophe.

In addition to Georgia, Kentucky and North Carolina, Republican senators in Mississippi, Oregon, Minnesota and New Hampshire are in serious dogfights to hold their seats, and the party has all but given up on New Mexico, Colorado, Virginia and Alaska. Nate Silver even suggests that Texas might be lurching into play. The Democrats, on the other hand, only need to mount a defense for one senator, Louisiana's Mary Landrieu.

That adds up, by the way, to eleven competitive Republican seats -- twelve if you count Texas, which still seems like a big stretch. The Democrats need to pick up nine seats to hit a total of 60, the magic number where they can overcome filibusters. (They'll need 10 seats if they dispense with Joe Lieberman.) Because of the 60 vote requirement, the Senate has often been where major progressive reforms go to die: the Clinton White House's failure to pull off an end run around the filibuster was instrumental to the defeat of the health care proposal, for instance. If Barack Obama wins the presidency, the size of the Democrats' Senate majority would likely determine whether an Obama administration is successful in passing its legislative agenda.

By Gabriel Winant

Gabriel Winant is a graduate student in American history at Yale.

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