Well, despite some optimistic tea-leaf reading earlier in the day about turnout, the voters of Georgia have returned Republican Saxby Chambliss to the Senate in today’s run-off election, defeating challenger Jim Martin by a wide margin.

Disappointing, but I guess even in a remarkable year, you really can’t win them all.

This race will of course be analyzed six ways to Sunday, and the GOP in particular will try to claim they won it thanks to their promise of a Senate “firewall” against a “liberal agenda”… but I’m hesitant to attach much credence to that proposition. Voters this year (outside of Georgia, at least) clearly seem to want a change in course in Washington, and a Congress that can sidestep gridlock and get things done; nothing has happened in the last four weeks to change that prevailing sentiment.

I think the most logical thing here is to chalk the result up to traditional political dynamics:  low turnout in a runoff, which always gives an advantage to the incumbent. (The three House special elections in Illinois, Louisiana, and Mississippi earlier this year that swung to the Dems might superficially seem to defy that rule, but it’s worth remembering that none of those races had an incumbent.)

On the bright side, while the ongoing recount in Minnesota remains a nail-biter, there are several developments that bode well for Al Franken against Norm Coleman. As Nate Silver explains, once you take into account today’s numbers, and the way challenged ballots and absentee ballots will be handled, it’s even closer than official reports might lead you to believe—just a handful of votes apart, well within reach. It’ll be several more days before we have any kind of even semi-conclusive result there, though.

Even if the Minnesota seat falls into the “D” column, though, that would make only 59—short of the magically delicious filibuster-proof 60. However, we shouldn’t write the possibility off just yet. As I’ve suggested before, I wouldn’t bet against back-channel talks between the Democratic Senate leadership and notoriously moderate Republicans Olympia Snowe and/or Susan Collins, trying to entice one or both of them to jump ship.

It’s not implausible. Put yourself in the shoes of either Maine Senator:  would you rather be on the political fringe of a discredited minority party, seen as standing in the way of progress at a crucial time for the country, even while your own side routinely castigates you with terms like “RINO”—or would you rather come in out of the wilderness, be the hero who delivers the critical vote to the winning side, and get some nice committee-seat perks in the process?

We won’t hear a peep about it unless and until one of them decides to act, of course… but the prospect has to be impossible to ignore, and you just know the officially unofficial negotations have, as of tonight, taken on new importance.

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