Will Wilson is a former GOVERNING correspondent.E-mail: email@example.com
Democrats expect to gain several Senate seats tonight. But four races in particular could make for a late night if they are to seize a filibuster-proof 60 seats (including the two independents who caucus with the Dems).
First, the exact count in Georgia will be important. Georgia law requires that the winner must get 50% of the vote, or the contest heads to a runoff election. Incumbent Saxby Chambliss (R) has been ahead in polls, but he'll be challenged to crack that 50% ceiling, especially if Libertarian candidate Allen Buckley pulls a couple percent of the vote. If Chambliss and Democratic challenger Jim Martin do need a runoff, it will happen in December--which could make Georgia a national political hornets' nest for a month.
Next up, Minnesota, where the race between Al Franken (D) and incumbent Norm Coleman (R) has been close enough that polling aggregators can't even agree on who is ahead. Independence Party candidate Dean Barkley throws a wild card into the mix--and it will be interesting to see if voters will really affirm the comedian Franken as their representative in the U.S. Senate. (Then again, this is the state where Jesse "The Body" Ventura governed.) Nate Silver at fivethirtyeight.com says, "Minnesota may be the race to watch today, possibly even exceeding the presidential contest."
Later in the evening, Oregon results will start to come in. The twist here is that, because the state votes by mail, it might have been a bit harder for pre-election polling to judge exactly how the race would shake out. Jeff Merkley (D) appears to have roared past incumbent Gordon Smith (R) in the last month or so, but exactly when the bulk of voters sent in their ballots could matter. Many wait until the last days, which seems to favor Merkley.
Finally, fittingly, Alaska's vote might prove determinative this cycle. It will be after midnight on the East Coast before we begin to know whether the state finally says goodbye to Ted Stevens (R). In the days following Stevens's conviction on seven felony counts, polls have understandably swung in favor of his opponent Mark Begich (D). But Ted Stevens is an institution in Alaska. He helped the state achieve statehood, even though he broke some laws to do that too. Breakin' up, Neil Sedaka warned us just a few years before Stevens entered the Senate, is hard to do.
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