Will Dems get to 60 seats in the Senate?

It still looks unlikely, but Democrats could lock up a filibuster-proof majority if a few things go their way.

By Alex Koppelman
Published October 30, 2008 8:15PM (EDT)

Elsewhere on Salon today, both Mike Madden and I have articles discussing Senate and House races and the possibility that Democrats will pick up a large number of seats in both bodies this year, maybe even more than they did in 2006. (Madden's piece is here; mine, which focuses specifically on African-American turnout, is here.)

Probably the most significant question here is whether Democrats can win enough Senate seats to get to 60, the number of votes needed to override a filibuster. So far, it looks unlikely, but if a few things go the party's way, it just might happen.

Right now, there are 49 Democrats in the Senate, and two additional senators who caucus with the party -- Vermont's Bernie Sanders and Connecticut's Joe Lieberman. So Democrats need to pick up nine seats to get a filibuster-proof majority, 10 if they want to kick out Lieberman.

Right now, we can comfortably say that there'll be at least four pickups: Colorado's open seat, New Mexico's open seat, Virginia's open seat and Ted Stevens' seat in Alaska. Then there are an additional three seats that seem likely to flip. New Hampshire's John Sununu looks likely to lose his reelection battle, as do North Carolina's Elizabeth Dole and Oregon's Gordon Smith.

That's a net of seven seats for the Democrats, bringing them up to 58. The question is where the additional two or three seats will come from.

Looking at the list of races, there are really only four other competitive battles remaining. Democrats will need to win at least two, if not three, of these -- and right now, that seems like a very difficult task (or they'll need to persuade someone to switch sides after the election).

Those four races are: Georgia, where Jim Martin hopes to unseat Saxby Chambliss; Kentucky, where Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is fighting for his political life; Minnesota, where Al Franken is taking on incumbent Norm Coleman; and Mississippi, where Ronnie Musgrove is going after Roger Wicker, who replaced Trent Lott.

Initially, it looked like the Coleman/Franken race might be the best bet for a Democratic win out of those four races, but Franken hasn't been able to catch up to Coleman, and he'll need some luck to get over the top come Election Day. Wicker has a double-digit lead over Musgrove, so that will be tough as well. McConnell appears vulnerable, but he's been doing better lately, so that also might be a long shot.

I think the Democrats' best chance is probably in Georgia. Chambliss hasn't been leading by that much, and the surge in black voters we've seen so far in that state could mean that the pollsters' models are off and understate his challenger's support. The caveat there, though, is that if neither candidate gets a majority on Election Day, there'll be a runoff in December, and it might be tough to sustain the high turnout then, once the excitement of the presidential election has worn off. (African-American turnout could also do some serious damage to Wicker, but maybe not enough to unseat him.) After that, it seems as if the Coleman/Franken race is the next most likely to result in a pickup.

Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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