Can Democrats Get to 60 by Winning Senate Races in Alaska, Minnesota, and Georgia?

I may have spoken too soon the day after the election when I said Democrats fell short of 60.

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In my column written the day after the election, I wrote that the Democrats had fallen short of the 60 seats they need to stop a filibuster in the Senate. I may have spoken too soon. In Alaska, Democrat Mark Begich has taken the lead over Republican incumbent Ted Stevens in the early counting of absentee, early, and challenged votes. At last count, Begich was 814 votes ahead. Begich had a big lead in those tallies—evidence of the effectiveness of the Obama campaign, which was targeting Alaska until John McCain named Sarah Palin as his running mate. But the counting may not entirely favor Democrats. Not until next week will ballots from Anchorage be counted, and Anchorage typically is more Republican than the rest of the state.

Meanwhile, we await the final count from Minnesota, where Republican incumbent Norm Coleman is only 206 votes ahead of Democrat Al Franken. A good place to keep up with that is the Powerline blog. And here are some other links, from Marc Ambinder of the Atlantic. And on December 2, Georgia will have a runoff election because Republican incumbent Saxby Chambliss got 49.8 percent of the vote on November 4, just short of the 50 percent required to win without a runoff. The Obama campaign has kept its offices busy working on this project, although it's not clear whether Obama, who didn't campaign much for other Democrats this year, will personally campaign. The Obama campaign did a terrific job of increasing black turnout in Georgia, and so a victory for Democrat Jim Martin is a lively possibility.

The results in these three races could make an enormous difference in public policy. With 60 votes in the Senate, Democrats will probably pass the card check bill designed to abolish secret ballots in unionization elections. The likely result: a sharp rise in the 8 percent of private-sector employees represented by unions. We can see the difference this can make by looking at another issue that's being debated: the Detroit Three auto bailout backed by Barack Obama and Democratic congressional leaders (the subject of my forthcoming Creators Syndicate column). Why are the Detroit Three in such trouble? Well, the lavish healthcare benefits negotiated by the companies and the United Auto Workers mean that total compensation paid workers by the Detroit Three is 52 percent higher than Toyota's and 132 percent above the U.S. manufacturing average. Is this what we want for large swaths of the private-sector economy?