Republicans Avoid Worst-Case Scenario

Posted November 5, 2008 at 6:26am

Updated: 8:50 a.m.

In a world defined by carefully honed expectations, Congressional Republicans didn’t have too bad of an election night.

In a world defined by cold, hard math, Tuesday’s House and Senate races weren’t too kind — particularly given President-elect Obama’s resounding victory over Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).

Senate Republicans, who had faced the possibility of losing nine seats and slipping into a minority too weak to even mount a filibuster, appear to have avoided that worst-case scenario.

Early Wednesday morning, Senate Republicans found themselves down five seats, with two races still too close to call. Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.) just before 8 a.m. was declared the winner over comedian Al Franken, although a recount is required by law because his margin of victory was less than 1 percent.

Coleman was a top Democratic target and managed to finish ahead despite the fact that his state went heavily for Obama.

House Republicans had suffered about 22 losses by the early morning, with the prospect of several more that might not go their way.

Between this cycle and the 2006 elections, that means the GOP is down about 50 seats from its modern high-water mark in 2004 of 232 Republicans.

But with a GOP gain of four seats, including the surprise ousting of Rep. Don Cazayoux (D-La.), predictions of a 30-seat or better net pickup for Democrats do not appear to have come to fruition.

In addition to dumping Cazayoux, Republicans managed to oust Democratic Reps. Nancy Boyda (Kan.), Nick Lampson (Texas) and Tim Mahoney (Fla.).

Among the prizes scored by Democrats after years of trying — and failing — were businessman Jim Himes’ defeat of Rep. Christopher Shays (R-Conn.), former Senate aide Betsy Markey’s win over Rep. Marilyn Musgrave (R-Colo.) and the flipping of New Mexico’s 1st district — an open seat in which former Albuquerque Councilor Martin Heinrich (D) beat Bernalillo County Sheriff Darren White (R).

It also appeared early Wednesday that wealthy businessman Walt Minnick (D) upset Rep. Bill Sali (R) in the solidly conservative 1st district of Idaho.

Other races being reporting included Ohio’s 15th district, being vacated by Rep. Deborah Pryce (R). There, state Sen. Steve Stivers (R) appeared to have pulled off a surprise victory over Franklin County Commissioner Mary Jo Kilroy (D), who failed to dislodge Pryce last cycle.

In Ohio’s 16th district, being vacated by Rep. Ralph Regula (R), the Democrats scored a pickup, with state Sen. John Boccieri beating state Sen. Kirk Schuring (R).

In Washington’s 8th district, Rep. Dave Reichert (R) appeared to be holding a narrow lead over 2006 nominee Democratic Darcy Burner.

In Alaska, Rep. Don Young (R) cruised to victory over former state House Minority Leader Ethan Berkowitz (D). Young won 51.54 percent to 43.89 percent after several polls showed him headed for a certain defeat.

In the Senate, Republicans are still in contention in Alaska and Oregon, as ballot returns continued to trickle in. In fact, GOP Sens. Gordon Smith (Ore.) and Ted Stevens (Alaska) held narrow leads early Wednesday morning.

At 4 a.m., the Oregon Secretary of State showed Smith with a lead of 47.25 percent to 46.92 percent over state Speaker Jeff Merkley (D).

With nearly all precincts reporting in Alaska, Stevens led Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich 48.06 percent to 46.54 percent.

In Georgia, Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R) appeared certain to win, with the question now being whether he can avoid a runoff. Chambliss must win over 50 percent of the vote to avoid a Dec. 2 runoff, and was hovering just above 50 percent with nearly all precincts reporting. His Democratic opponent, former state Rep. Jim Martin, was stuck at 46 percent.

If Democrats picked up the Alaska and Oregon Senate seats — and the looming Minnesota recount reversed the results of that race — their total take in this year’s elections would rise to eight, a figure that would alter the breakdown of the Senate from a narrow 51-49 Democratic majority to 59-41, the type of majority not seen since the aftermath of Watergate.

As it stood at 8:45 a.m., Democrats were holding a 56-44 majority, courtesy of state Sen. Kay Hagan’s ousting of Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R-N.C.), former Gov. Jeanne Shaheen’s victory over Sen. John Sununu (R-N.H.), Rep. Mark Udall’s (Colo.) win over former Rep. Bob Schaffer (R), former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner’s defeat of ex-Gov. Jim Gilmore (R) and Rep. Tom Udall’s (N.M.) triumph over Rep. Steve Pearce (R).

Among the big sighs of relief for Senate Republicans was the victory by their leader, as Sen. Mitch McConnell (Ky.) held off a fierce challenge from health care executive Bruce Lunsford (D).