ABC News’ Rick Klein Reports: Georgia Sen. Saxby Chambliss’ resounding reelection win in Tuesday’s run-off election forecloses any chance Senate Democrats had of reaching the magical number of 60 members of their caucus.
And it may have an additional impact: The fact that 60 is now off the table might sap enthusiasm and momentum for an extended legal battle for the would-be 59th Democratic seat -- where Democrat Al Franken is locked in a recount with Republican Sen. Norm Coleman.
What’s the connection? First -- it’s important to consider that recounts are fought in the legal realm as well as the public sphere. The possibility of Minnesota providing the magical Six-Oh to Democrats would have kept intense national attention on the race, and would have virtually guaranteed pressure from liberal activists to keep the fight alive to the end.
Second -- the Franken campaign has strongly signaled that, if it isn’t satisfied with the outcome of ballot challenges Minnesota courtrooms, its case could be taken to the Senate itself to decide. The Constitution provides that the House and Senate serve as “judge of qualifications and elections of its members.”
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has hinted that he’s willing to have the Senate intervene, if Democrats maintain questions about the integrity of the vote.
But would Reid want to take such a politically explosive step if it wouldn’t even bring him 60 votes? Particularly when Republicans will control at least 41 votes in the new Senate -- enough to filibuster any such move, and effectively kill it?
Some Republicans, at least, think not.
“Saxby's re-election ends the 2008 Election for all intents and purposes,” Republican strategist Vin Weber, a former House member from Minnesota, e-mails The Note. “By Friday, with Norm Coleman having won the Minnesota recount, the enthusiasm for overturning the results of an election will deflate rapidly. The Franken Campaign’s hopes that Minnesota would be the ‘60th’ seat are no longer relevant, and I suspect that moderate Democratic voices in the Senate will begin pouring cold water on the Franken-Reid effort to drag this matter onto the floor of the United State's Senate.”
In any event, the Minnesota battle is not over yet: As of Tuesday, with more than 6,000 ballots having been challenged, Coleman’s lead stood at 303 votes, according to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.
In a bright spot for Franken’s hopes, the newspaper reports, the secretary of state’s office Tuesday “asked local election officials to examine an estimated 12,000 rejected absentee ballots and determine whether their rejection fell under one of four reasons for rejection defined in state law.”
Franken strategist Eric Schultz tells ABC that the campaign’s energies are focused on counting the votes -- not the possibility of Senate intervention.
“One thing we've never been concerned about is a lack of interest in this race, but for right now we're exclusively focused on making sure all Minnesotans who cast votes, get those votes counted,” Schutz said.