Throwing Cold Water On Your Hopes For 60 Senate Seats

by Eve Fairbanks | December 1, 2008

Yes, reaching 60 seats in the Senate is still technically possible for the Democrats, if the Georgia runoff and Minnesota recount both go their way. But a pair of number-crunching, history-examining stories illuminate the dim odds that either race will turn in the Democrats' favor. The Minnesota Star-Tribune handicaps Al Franken's chances of closing his vote gap with incumbent Norm Coleman:

While a tiny margin separates the candidates in the Minnesota U.S. Senate race, it is wide enough that Democrat Al Franken faces a daunting task in challenging votes to erase Sen. Norm Coleman's lead. The two sides have disputed thousands of the other's votes, but many of those challenges are regarded by experts as frivolous.

To win his case before the state Canvassing Board, Franken must prevail on more than 6 percent of his challenges of Coleman votes even if Coleman fails to succeed on any of his challenges, a Star Tribune analysis shows. If the outcome of past election disputes provides a clue, Franken will have a hard time reversing enough votes to win, said one veteran elections official who has been involved in the Senate recount.

Congressional Quarterly, meanwhile, runs an interesting study revealing that incumbents usually gain ground in rematches. Of course, what's happening down in Georgia tomorrow is a runoff, not technically a rematch. But the CQ piece suggests how voter opinion generally solidifies around even a narrow winner, and Georgia Republican Saxby Chambliss beat Democratic challenger Jim Martin in the original Georgia vote (though not, obviously, by enough points to prevent a runoff). What's more, there's evidence the GOP's putting a good bit more heart -- and dollars -- into the Georgia race than Democrats are.

--Eve Fairbanks

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