With Jeff Merkley, Senate Dems get to 57 seats and prepare for IL, DE and MA free-for-alls

As expected, Jeff Merkley pulled ahead of Republican Senator Gordon Smith as Multnomah County reported its results, leading many media outlets - including The Oregonian and MSNBC - to call the election for Merkley. This morning, Smith conceded defeat, settling what was long considered as the cycle’s ultimate toss-up (though Merkley gained a clear advantage over the past month) and what was certainly one of the year’s most bitterly fought Senate races.

The incumbent Senator was unable to overcome the unpopularity of his party label in this blue-leaning state, and he was burdened by a schizophrenic campaign in which he supported McCain but touted his relationship with Obama, pledged to exercise soft-spoken non-partisanship before lambasting his opponent in one of the most brutal attack ads of the cycle.

This gives Senate Democrats their 6th pick-up, and the one that is arguably the most satisfying to the party’s left given Merkley’s progressive profile. They are now guaranteed 57 seats with 3 left undecided: Alaska, Georgia and Minnesota.

(There is nothing new to report in these other races. In Georgia, we are waiting for Fulton County to finish counting its absentee ballots. In Minnesota, the Coleman-Franken dogfight is sure to head to a December recount, and election officials say that there could certainly be enough uncounted ballots to reverse the result. In Alaska, Mark Begich has closed the gap by a few hundred votes and now trails by 3,000 with an estimated 50,000 absentee ballots left to be counted - which should not happen for a few weeks.)

There is no reason to fear that December 2nd - the date of Georgia’s runoff - will mark the end of Senate politicking. Not only is there a chance that Minnesota’s result remain in contention deep into December, but a number of other seats are in question, starting with Barack Obama and Joe Biden’s Illinois and Delaware seats!

Both Senators will resign sometime in the coming weeks, and their respective governors will have to appoint their successor. There is no clear favorite for either seat, though there is one important factor to keep in mind: Barack Obama is the Senate’s only African-American member. Unless Illinois Gov. Blagojevich appoints a black politician (and there are several high-profile names circulating, including Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. and Emil Jones, the president of the state Senate and one of Obama’s mentors), there will be no African-American in the 111th Senate!

Other names that are circulating in Illinois include Rep. Jan Schakowsky, favored by labor, and Tammy Duckworth, who lost a high profile House race in 2006 before being tapped in the Blagojevich Administration. Blagojevich - who is widely unpopular - could also appoint himself. In Delaware, Biden would like his son to follow his footsteps, but Beau is deployed to Iraq until October 2009. The governor could appoint a caretaker until then or choose someone with more permanent ambitions.

And we are likely to get even more new Senators as Barack Obama starts naming Cabinet positions - potentially drawing from the ranks of congressional Democrats. One politician that is looking to join an Obama Administration is Massachusetts Senator John Kerry, who endorsed Obama at a key moment of the Democratic primaries and is now mentioned as a possible Secretary of State.

A Kerry appointment would mean a 2009 special election (the Democatic state legislature stripped the Governor of its appointment rights in 2004 when they feared Mitt Romney would pick a Republican successor to a President Kerry) - and one that is likely to be extremely competitive, at least on the Democratic side. There has not been an open Senate seat in the state since 1984, and there are more than a dozen Democrats in the state whose ambitions have been frustrated for much of the past two decades.

(If a seat opened up in a normal election year, some of the ten representatives might not dare to run as they would have to give up their House seat, but there is no such problem in a special election - so this would very much be a brutal free-for-all.)

11 Responses to “With Jeff Merkley, Senate Dems get to 57 seats and prepare for IL, DE and MA free-for-alls”

  1. 1 Unsentimental about Kennedys

    There’s bound to be a second open MA seat soon enough, since Teddy K’s prognosis pretty much sucks.

  2. 2 Jaxx Raxor

    Ted Kennedy’s health is in bad condition, but he is probably well enough to finish his Senate term, which would end in 2013.

    In terms of the race yet to call, it looks like the GOP is leaning in all of them, most amazing of them Ted Stevens. I looked at Politico blog speaking of a “Stevens effect” or the reluctance for voters to say they are willing to vote for a convicted felon but instead say that they will. A 3000 vote gap will be very hard for Begich to overcome even with all of the abseentee ballots to be counted, so Stevens probably has won. Of course, it’s a given that he will be expelled early in 2009, but his victory would show either how weak Democrats are in Alaska or how incredible Palin’s coattails were for Young and Stevens (probably more of the latter).

    Minnesota is very intersting. That Franken did this well despite having no political experience shows how much better Democrats could have done had a experiended Dem lawmaker had decided to challange Coleman instead of Franken. There is a chance, althrough less than 50%, that Franken could pull ahead. It has happened before (see Washington Governor’s race in 2004).

    Georgia’s runoff will be very intersting. The first question will be on how much President-elect Obama decides to get involved. Jim Martin knows that he came close to Chambliss because of the surging African American turnout and pretty shocking in a conservative (and racially divisive) state is invoking Obama. Of course, the Democrats will probably spend millions trying to win the seat, with the GOP doing the same (and probably with a bit more gusto seeing how they didn’t get completely destroyed like in 2006).

    The appointment of seats will be pretty intersting. Illnois will probably be the most rocking. Illnois may have a strong Democratic lean, but Republicans can win there, and with the governor being so unpopular, whoever he chooses can very well determine if the Democrats can hold the seat in 2010. The Democratic bench is much more diverse and Taniel already gave some of the possible candidates. I would say the strongest Democratic who would have been Rahm Emmaneul, but of course he is going to become’s Obama’s Chief of Staff so he is out. Each of the other candidates would not be absolutly safe the Democrats, althrough the indication that Jesse Jackson Jr. would be the weakest probably isn’t true. House members are probably stronger candidates then state officals or politicans from the state legislature as they would probably be connected to very unpopolar Blacovich (sp?).

    For the Republicans, the strongest candidate would be Mark Kirk, who was able to win yet again in 2008 in his district despite it having a Democratic lean, and that it voted more Democratic than 2004 because of a favorite son running for the Dems. Mark Kirk would give any Democrat a run for his money. If Kirk didn’t run the GOP’s chances would be much weaker. Peter Roskam’s district only leans slightly Republican (I don’t know if Obama won the district in the most recent election or not) but he would probably be the next strongest. The biggest problem the IL GOP has is in terms of getting it’s act together.

    MA will definitly be a bloodbath in the Democratic primary if Kerry is appointed to a position in the Obama administration, but probably not in the general: the GOP bench is very weak, not even Mitt Rommney could probably win a Senate race.

  3. 3 Chris

    I’ve heard a lot of criticism of the campaign Begich ran. Some Alaska democrats apparently feel that his campaign was far too cautious and underwhelming, and Begich mostly seemed like he was waiting to see if Stevens was convicted or not. If that is the case, then Begich wasted a golden opportunity when he had the entire state to himself. That being said, Alaska really is a difficult state for democrats, and one that seems to be drifting further to the republican camp. 2004 Tony Knowles lost an election he was suppose to win. 2006 Knowles again lost the gubernatorial election to Sarah Palin despite the ethical problems of the state republican party, and his Knowles’ reputation as a popular former governor, and the overwhelming democratic lean of that year.

    As for Massachusetts, if Kerry does become secretary of state it’ll be interesting to see who jumps in. A lot of Massachusetts’ congressmen have served for a long time, and some of them might be reluctant to give up the power of seniority in the house for freshman status in the senate. Of all the representatives I’d think Stephen Lynch (elected to the house in (2001) and Jim McGovern (elected in 96) would be the mostly likely to run. I could also see Lt. Governor Tim Murray or Attorney General Martha Coakley jumping in. There’s a possibility Niki Tsongas might try for it especially since her husband once held the seat, though given her short experience in the house and her underwhelming performance in the special election last year I doubt she’d really go for it.

    The small margin separating Coleman and Franken could easily be overturned on a recount, so it looks like this senate race might be the truest tossup of 2008. It’s a shame we’ll have to wait until December to know who won. Coleman’s already proclaimed victory and has called on Franken to concede. I’m glad he hasn’t.

  4. 4 Ogre Mage

    Coleman’s already proclaimed victory and has called on Franken to concede. I’m glad he hasn’t.

    Yes, it would be foolish to concede given that Coleman’s lead stands at 438 votes out of 2.9 million cast. If ever a situation cried for recount, this is it.

  5. 5 Taniel

    It’s down to 236 votes, Ogre Mage, just 236…

  6. 6 Ogre Mage

    It’s down to 236 votes, Ogre Mage, just 236…

    Oh my, this is turning into Gregoire/Rossi 2004. If this trend keeps up, maybe it will be Coleman asking for recount. LOL.

  7. 7 gerard

    The following states have Democrat governors and Republican Senators. Thus, any of these Senators leaving the Senate could set up the opportunity for a new Democrat Senator and bring us closer to 60 Democrat Senators. Each state has their own rules of succession, so not all of these could work, Wyoming is one example of a Senate vacancy being filled by a Senator of the same party. I listed the governor first, followed by the state and the Republican Senators.

    Bev Perdue North Carolina Richard Burr
    John Lynch New Hampshire Judd Gregg
    Jay Nixon Missouri Christopher Bond
    Janet Napolitano Arizona John McCain, Jon Kyl
    Chet Culver Iowa Charles Grassley
    Kathleen Sebelius Kansas Pat Roberts, Sam Brownback
    Steve Beshear Kentucky Jim Bunning, Mitch McConnell, (yeah right!)
    John Baldacci Maine Olympia Snowe, Susan Collins
    Ted Strickland Ohio George Voinovich
    Brad Henry Oklahoma James Inhofe, Tom Coburn (imagine him as the budget director!)
    Edward Rendell Pennsylvania Arlen Spector
    Phil Bredesen Tennessee Bob Corker, Lamar Alexander
    Dave Freudenthal Wyoming Mike Enzi, John Barrasso (they have to be replaced by members of the same party.)

  8. 8 Taniel


    Arizona is another state in which the governor has to replace an outgoing senator by a member of the same party. Alaska and Massachusetts (neither of which are on your list) are two states in which the governor has no appointment rights. but that’s a very interesting list!

  9. 9 gerard


    Thanks for the feedback. Just a thought, didn’t former Senator Frank Murkowski appoint his daughter when he became governor?

  10. 10 Brent

    As an Illinoisian, the debate over Obama’s replacement is interesting and I’ve seen over a dozen different names to replace him including over very unpopular governor himself. The thing is the only certain thing about the governor is he is unpredictable.

    If I was a betting man, I would say Emil Jones is the most likely to succeed Obama. He is close to the governor and the President-elect and he would most likely not run in 2010 although he might not want to give up his new job. Jesse Jackson, Jr. might be a good pick, a demographical and ideological fit to replace Obama, but I imagine he would be concerned with his name recognition potentially hurting his attempt for reelection (I know it’s not fair, but I don’t think this fear is unrealistic).

    The governors three biggest competitors in 2010 are probably State Atty. Gen. Lisa Madigan, Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias, and Comptroller Dan Hynes. He could send one of them to Washington to try and get rid of his competition. In that group, Dan Hynes is the most likely. From talking to state assemblyman, they don’t believe Lisa Madigan wants to be Governor when her father is speaker of the house, and Alexi is really young and would have only 4 years of state government experience.

    I agree with Jaxx that Republicans can win in the state, but the attrition the republican party has seen in recent years makes it very unlikely that a republican will be able to mount a strong senate campaign in 2010.

  11. 11 st paul sage

    Dan Hynes - IL, Carney - DE would be the strongest senator-appointees. I like the idea of appointing a GOP Senator. I feel pretty good about Chuck Grassley and Judd Gregg just because they seem like nice guys but are they bad on policy? What could they be appointed to?

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