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Senate Dems Race to 60 Seats

While the Presidential contest gets the most press, the race for control of both houses of the US Congress and state governorships is equally critical to whoever becomes the new President. Sixty in the Senate is such an important number because that is the number of votes required to halt/prevent crippling fillibusters which allow a member to talk for days on end, stalling the legislative calendar to stifle legislation they do not like.


Every election, 1/3 of the 100 member, 6-year termed Senate seats come up for re-election. Each state has two senators, regardless of state size, making all states equal. Currently there is an equal split of seats between Democrats and Republicans with each holding 49 seats. The two Independent Senators, Joe Lieberman of CT and Jim Jeffords of VT, caucus with the Democrats (forming a 51 Senator majority coalition although strained this year by Lieberman’s very public support of John McCain). With this slimmest of majorities they neutralize the power of the Vice President who yields a constitutional tie-breaking vote for the Republicans.

So this race is about whether or not Barack Obama’s coattails are long enough to get the Dems to 58 Senate seats or more with the two caucusing Independents making it 60 (although many Dems would like to throw Lieberman under the bus for his attacks on Obama) or 59-60 outright.

There are two seats almost certain to go to Democrats. (Seats 50 and 51 +2)

New Mexico
Legendary Republican senator Pete Domenici is retiring. The Democrats have representative Tom Udall (son of legendary Senator Mo Udall). He enjoys a 16-point lead over Republican Steve Pearce in this red state turned blue by popular Governor Bill Richardson, with whom Bill Clinton is very angry for his early vocal support of Obama in the primaries.

Long-time Republican Senator John Warner is retiring. Two former state governors are fighting this battle with former Democratic governor Mark Warner (no relation) having a huge lead over former Republican governor Jim Gilmore.

Five more states lean Democratics (Seats 52 – 56 +2 if Stevens also loses)

Oregon is a blue state where incumbent Republican Senator Gordon Smith is facing a strong challenge from Democrat Jeff Merkley. Although Smith is a moderate Republican who won his seat by 16 points, he currently has an 11% favorability rating (lower than George Bush). Polls have Merkley ahead 46-41% in a tight race. (Advantage D)

R-Wayne Allard, true to his promise to serve only two terms, is retiring. D-House member Mark Udall another son from that famous political family is running 11 points ahead of R-former Congressman Mark Schaffer. (Advantage D)

Aged incumbent R-Ted Stevens is in a world of trouble with a criminal corruption trial dominating headlines, keeping him from campaigning and nearly completed. If convicted, many believe he will not be re-elected. If found innocent, he could win a 7th (that is not a typo) 6-year term at age 85 – he turns 86 on 18 November (and you thought John McCain was old?).

He faces a tough challenge from 46-year old youngster, D-Mark Begich, the current Anchorage Mayor. The race is a dead heat and were he to win, this would be the first Democratic Senate win since Mike Gravel in 1974 and… represents a huge repudiation defeat for Sarah Palin, Alaska’s current Governor and Republican Vice Presidential candidate. (slight Advantage R)

North Carolina
R-incumbent Senator Elizabeth Dole, wife of former KS Senate majority leader and failed VP candidate Bob Dole is in a tight race for re-election with Democratic challenger, state Senator, Kay Hagan. Dole is in big trouble for a Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee ad running statewide showing two old geezers in rocking chairs discussing the fact that Libby Dole ranks 93rd in Senate effectiveness. Her poll numbers have dropped precipitously along with Senator McCain’s and where she once held 54-43 lead, she now trails Hagan 49-44. (slight Advantage D)

New Hampshire
New Hampshire? It’s just a weird state. Their motto, ‘Live Free or Die,’ some take literally. They blow like the wind. Incumbent R-John Sununu (son of the former Bush Sr. Chief of staff) was not even on the radar until 2006 when a Democratic tsunami rolled over the NH state house. He is down by five points to three time former D-Governor Jeanne Shaheen. These two battled in 2002 where Sununu won his seat by 4%. (slight Advantage D)

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The two toss-up states look very interesting. (Seats 57 or 58 +2)

This is a state where the Republicans are most afraid. D-challenger Al Franken, he the former comedian, author and cast member of Saturday Night Live is giving R-incumbent Norm Coleman the race of his life. Coleman this week suspended all negative attack ads (because they were working against him) and do remember that this is the same state that elected as Governor former professional wrestler, Jesse “The Body” Ventura. (slight Advantage D)

When R-Trent Lott resigned suddenly, Roger Wicker was appointed by Governor Barbour to fill out the term until a special election could be held this November. Former governor Ronnie Musgrove is the Democratic challenger and he trails by only two points 48-46, well within the margin of error. MS was the first state to show a bit blue this year electing a Democrat to fill a traditional Republican House seat in a special election this past spring. (slight Advantage R)Three long shots… (any one of which could put the Dems and caucus partners in control.) At 58 or 57, if the Dems pick up two or half of these, they control outright AND can throw Lieberman under the bus.

R-Susan Collins faces a tough fight from D-House member Tom Allan. Although she has a 10-point lead, she promised only to serve two terms yet this will be her third. She is a moderate New England republican, a dying breed, and this could be an interesting race down the stretch. (slight Advantage R)

The Dems would love to defeat R caucus leader Mitch McConnell who faces a tough challenge from D-Bruce Lundsford. (slight Advantage R)

Is a state where the Democrats are looking for payback time for Saxby Chambliss’ despicable negative campaign of six years ago where the triple Vietnam Vet amputee Max Cleland was smeared in an ad campaign calling him… unpatriotic and pairing him in pictures with Osama Bin Laden?!?

The Democratic Party is pouring huge resources into Georgia behind D-Jim Martin to defeat incumbent Saxby Chambliss. Currently it is 46-44 for Chambliss (within the margin of error) but Obama’s strong voter registration drive ground game could be the deciding factor. (Slight Advantage D)

This blood red state is the only one Republicans can hope for a pick-up. D-Mary Landrieu leads narrowly in the polls but could be vulnerable to R-state treasurer John Kennedy. Landrieu holds a 9-point edge. (Advantage D)


Even with Biden and Obama leaving the Senate, the Democratic governors in those states will appoint D replacements. Just don’t look for many Senators from red state governorships in an Obama cabinet.

Denis Campbell

Denis Campbell is a US journalist based in the United Kingdom. He contributes to newspapers and magazines, is a BBC Radio election commentator and publishes the daily e-magazine The Vadimus Post from the Latin Quo Vadimus – where are we headed and do we know why?

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