The next Senate

THE NEXT SENATE…. The political world knew long before yesterday that an Obama administration would work with a Democratically-controlled Senate. The question was how big the majority would be.

The 60-vote, filibuster-proof majority was always a long-shot, and as a practical matter, not necessarily a prerequisite to governing anyway.

So, where did Democrats end up? As it happens, the dust hasn’t quite cleared yet. Every Democratic incumbent, as expected, won re-election. We also know that Democrats, at a minimum, won five seats that were held by Republicans: Virginia, Colorado, New Mexico, New Hampshire, and North Carolina. That brings the Democratic majority to a very healthy 56 seats.

There are, however, some unresolved contests.

* Minnesota — With nearly all of the precincts reporting, Norm Coleman leads Al Franken by about 800 votes, out of nearly 2.9 million cast. A statewide recount seems likely.

* Alaska — Ted Stevens may have just been convicted on seven felony counts, but he appears to have a very narrow lead over Mark Begich anyway. The Anchorage Daily News reports, “With more than 80 percent of the precincts reporting, Stevens held a 2-percentage point advantage over Democrat Begich. About 4,000 votes separated the candidates. The razor-thin margin means the Senate race might not be decided for two weeks.” (Remember, if Stevens ultimately wins, an expulsion vote seems likely in the Senate.)

* Oregon — Gordon Smith, the Republican who ran multiple ads talking about how much he likes Barack Obama, appears to have a very narrow lead over Jeff Merkley, but the race hasn’t been called yet.

* Georgia — Saxby Chambliss (R) appears to have a two-point lead over Democrat Jim Martin with just about all of the votes counted, but with Libertarian Allen Buckley gaining more than 3% of the vote, Chambliss seems to be just shy of the 50% threshold needed in Georgia. The Atlanta Journal Constitution reported this morning, “If that scenario held, Chambliss would face a costly and unpredictable four-week runoff with Martin.”

The Democratic majority will, in other words, be at least 56 seats.

That is, if Joe Lieberman stays in the caucus. The Connecticut independent is very likely to lose his committee chairmanship, and may feel compelled to complete his betrayal. Yesterday, Lieberman told right-wing radio host Glenn Beck that he “fears” that America would not survive if Democrats reached the 60-seat plateau.

I don’t think any senator has ever voluntarily joined the minority caucus, but keep an eye on ol’ Joe.