WASHINGTON — In a strange turn of events, the Democrats' pursuit of a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate — left for dead after last week's election results — is now back on course.
The road to 60 seats will now go through an Anchorage election office, the Minnesota state courts, a runoff in Georgia next month and, ultimately, a tense caucus meeting next week in which Democrats must deal with a renegade lawmaker who is making noise about crossing the aisle to join Republicans.
"Let me beat you to the punch: Will we get 60 seats?" said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, cutting off reporters Thursday before they could ask the question everyone wants answered. "It's possible, but unlikely."
This seemed impossible last week, when Democrats appeared to gain six seats, to reach 57 for the 111th Congress starting in January, failing to secure a filibuster-proof majority for President-elect Obama.
Now the terrain has changed in the three remaining undecided Senate races, where Republican incumbents finished ahead on election night but local rules have given Democrats the chance to add one to three seats to their majority.
Alaska: Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich pulled 814 votes ahead of Republican Sen. Ted Stevens late Wednesday night after officials tallied 59,000 votes that included absentee, early and questionable ballots whose validity was verified. An additional 40,000 votes are set to be counted in the days ahead. Final results are expected Wednesday, with a certified winner on Dec. 1.
Georgia: A runoff election is Dec. 2. Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss led initial voting but did not clear the required 50 percent mark and must once again face Democratic former state Rep. Jim Martin. The race brought Sen. John McCain back to the campaign trail Thursday, his first political appearance since losing the presidential election last week. "There is a lot at stake here. … I'm asking you to go into battle one more time," McCain told a rally of 1,500 in Atlanta.
Minnesota: The most legally complex battle is here. A recount process is about to start amid echoes of the controversial Florida 2000 presidential recount. Democrat Al Franken remains 206 votes behind Republican Sen. Norm Coleman. More than 24,000 ballots that electronically recorded votes in the presidential race but did not record any vote in the Coleman-Franken contest will now be examined, and legal challenges have been lodged. Hundreds of lawyers on both sides are volunteering to help resolve the dispute.
The Lieberman issue: An internal dispute could derail the Democrats' pursuit of 60 seats as early as next week. Some Democrats want to punish Sen. Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn., who caucuses with them, for his support of the GOP presidential ticket by stripping his chairmanship of a key committee. Lieberman has balked at such a move, amid whispers that he would instead caucus with Republicans. A decision is expected Tuesday at a closed-door meeting of Senate Democrats.