Several House, Senate Races Are Still Unresolved

Posted November 5, 2008 at 7:08pm

While Senate races in Alaska and Oregon still remained too close to call Wednesday evening, Sen. Norm Coleman’s (R-Minn.) tough battle with comedian Al Franken (D) — and perhaps a handful of House races — are headed to recounts.

“We’ll spend the next two weeks summarizing and going through every detail,” Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie said in a Wednesday afternoon conference call. “Right now, they are unofficial results.”

Earlier in the day, the Associated Press erroneously called the race for Coleman, who was prematurely lauded by Senate GOP leaders, including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Ensign (Nev.), who congratulated Coleman in a statement on being “able to make a compelling case that he was the best choice to advocate on behalf of Minnesotans in the U.S. Senate.”

The AP retracted its analysis of the race before noon Wednesday. As of press time, just 475 votes separated Coleman and Franken out of almost 3 million votes cast, a margin that triggers an automatic recount, which may take months to conduct.

“I don’t know how long exactly it will take and all of the challenges and the legal parts of it,” Ritchie said. “The main concern is that this is done accurately and with transparency.”

The NRSC and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee are already preparing for what likely will be a hard-fought legal battle. According to a source familiar with the NRSC’s recount efforts, Republican officials Wednesday morning began contacting supporters on K Street and elsewhere looking for volunteers who can commit time to working in Minnesota on the effort.

Election lawyers from both camps will be present as state officials conduct the review of paper ballots and will coordinate any litigation that could arise. Marc Elias, an election lawyer at Perkins Coie, will likely head up Franken’s legal team, according to a source close to the DSCC.

“Everybody has been putting the all-call out,” this source said, noting that while the NRSC has a budget for recounts, federal law also allows the campaign arms to set up new political action committees to fund those activities.

The hybrid recount committees do not have limits for personal donations. Corporations, labor unions and foreign nationals cannot contribute to the entities. Because the PACs are newly formed, maxed out donors can contribute without running afoul of federal election law.

On Wednesday, Coleman declined at a press event to provide specifics on how his campaign will proceed.

“My focus from here on out is giving Minnesotans a service in leadership they deserve in these challenging times. The people of Minnesota made a clear statement last night,” Coleman said. “When you look at the totality of their votes from the presidency on down the ticket, Democrats, DFL and Republicans, we expect you to work together to get things done. And from my part, that’s what I intend to do.”

Meanwhile, the Senate race in Georgia appears to be headed for a December runoff, according to the Associated Press. With just a few votes left to count, Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R) appears to have fallen just short of the 50 percent that he needed to win the seat outright. He will square off against former state Rep. Jim Martin (D) on Dec. 2, and both parties are expected to get heavily involved in a monthlong sprint with an uncertain dynamic.

The Oregon race between Sen. Gordon Smith (R) and state Speaker Jeff Merkley (D) remained too close to call late Wednesday, as ballots were still being counted, and so was the race between convicted Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) and Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich (D). Stevens’ campaign, however, put out a statement Wednesday suggesting that Begich would not be able to make up the difference between the two candidates after all the ballots had been counted.

House races in Maryland, Washington, Ohio, Virginia and California were either too close to call or headed to a recount as of press time.

With all the votes counted in Maryland’s 1st district, Queen Anne’s County State’s Attorney Frank Kratovil (D) was neck and neck with state Sen. Andy Harris (R), with each garnering 49 percent, according to the AP.

Neither Kratovil nor Harris indicated Wednesday what, if anything, his campaign may do specifically to determine a winner.

“I will work with the County Boards of Elections and Mr. Kratovil’s campaign to make sure that we come to a conclusion quickly, so that we can get back to work for the people of the First District,” Harris said in a statement. “I have complete confidence in our election system and the men and women responsible for making sure that the process of counting each vote is fair and straightforward.”

It also remained unclear Wednesday evening how Rep. Virgil Goode (R-Va.) or attorney Tom Perriello (D) would resolve their political barnburner. With all precincts reporting, their contest remained tied at 50 percent apiece.

Goode said in a conference call on Wednesday that his campaign would wait for a finally tally to determine whether he would ask for a recount, which Virginia law permits if the vote is within 0.5 percent.

“We’ll evaluate that situation if that occurs,” Goode said.

Perriello spokeswoman Jessica Barba also declined to discuss the campaign’s next move, saying that “our focus is on making sure every single vote is counted and every single voice is heard.”

“The results need to be certified, and there are provisional ballots that need to be considered,” Barba said. “We are confident that people in the 5th district want change and that we are going to be successful in this election in the end.”

With less than half of the precincts reporting, targeted Rep. Dave Reichert (R-Wash.) was narrowly out in front in his rematch with former Microsoft executive Darcy Burner (D), 50 percent to 49 percent, according to the AP. And in California, state Sen. Tom McClintock (R) was essentially tied with 2006 nominee Charlie Brown (D) in the race to replace retiring Rep. John Doolittle (R).

The open-seat contest to replace retiring Rep. Deborah Pryce (R-Ohio) also was unresolved as of press time Wednesday. With all precincts reporting, state Sen. Steve Stivers (R) was ahead of Franklin County Commissioner Mary Jo Kilroy (D) by 321 votes, according to AP totals. The AP appeared to back off of its earlier decision to call the race for Stivers.

“There was confusion over the vote counts coming from the Franklin County Board of Elections, but that has been clarified and the Associated Press agrees that this race is still too close to call,” Kilroy’s campaign said in statement on Wednesday. “The thousands of votes still being counted include early votes from Veterans Memorial and legal paper ballots that were issued at the polling sites. Many of these votes were in high turnout precincts where voters wanted to cast ballots in this historic election.”

John McArdle and Anna Palmer contributed to this report.