By Congresspedia assistant editor Avelino Maestas
More than a week has passed since Election Day, but there are still five House and three Senate races in play, and the balance of power in Washington hinges on their outcomes. The closest races are currently in Alaska and Minnesota, where two sitting senators are defending their seats against strong challenges. Notably, two of the incumbents in undecided races are under federal investigation (Don Young and William Jefferson) and one (Ted Stevens) is awaiting sentencing on felony corruption charges.
Outstanding Senate races:
In Alaska, Sen. Ted Stevens is trailing Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich by less than 1,000 votes, a reversal of fortune since Stevens' early lead before the state began counting about 74,000 absentee and questionable ballots. Only half the ballots have been counted, however, so it's still anyone's race.
That Stevens is even still in the race is a testament to his standing in the Last Frontier. He’s the longest-serving Republican in the Senate and has represented Alaska in Congress since 1968. He’s also a convicted (though not yet sentenced) felon – a federal jury handed down a guilty verdict on seven counts of lying on personal finance disclosure forms just days before the election.
Should Stevens pull out the victory, he could plausibly serve for several more years as his appeal winds through the courts. The Senate could expel him from the body with a 2/3 majority vote, which is not unlikely considering that several of his colleagues on both sides of the aisle have publicly called for his resignation, including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). It would then fall to Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin to appoint a temporary replacement until a special election, mandated by state law to occur within 90 days, could be held to fill the remainder of the term.
Minnesota’s senate race is also incredibly tight. Incumbent Sen. Norm Coleman (R) is just 206 votes ahead of Democratic challenger Al Franken, and the tight margin has triggered an automatic recount. The state has appointed four judges to monitor the recount, which will last until at least mid-December.
Voters in Georgia will have to return to the polls to determine whether Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R) should continue as their senator. Chambliss was challenged by Democrat Jim Martin and Libertarian nominee Allen Buckley this year. Since no candidate garnered 50-percent of the vote on November 4, state law requires that a runoff be held between the top-two finishers: Chambliss and Martin.
The race is quickly becoming one of national importance – should Begich and Franken prevail in their matchups, Chambliss’ seat represents Democrats’ 60th vote in the Senate. That would make it easier to move legislation without the threat of a Republican filibuster. The ballots have already been cast in Alaska and Minnesota, however, so Republicans and Democrats alike are trying to rally Georgians to the polls on December 2.
Outstanding House races:
There are still five House races that remain undecided as well. Returning again to Alaska, you’ll find Rep. Don Young (R) in the midst of his own recount with Democratic challenger Ethan Berkowitz. Young is under federal investigation for possible bribery charges, making this race one to watch.
In California, residents in the 4th congressional district were so split that officials have called for a recount. The incumbent, Rep. John Doolittle (R), announced he would not seek re-election (Doolittle and his wife are under investigation in connection with the Jack Abramoff bribery case). Democrat Charlie Brown is trailing Republican Tom McClintock by about 1,000 votes, though 40,000 ballots remain outstanding.
The open seat being vacated by Republican Rep. Deborah Pryce in Ohio’s 15th district is also the subject of a tight election. Republican Steve Stivers is ahead of Democratic nominee Mary Jo Kilroy by just 393 votes, with about 20,000 still uncounted.
Finally, voters in two Louisiana districts will head to the polls next month to choose their representatives to Congress. Officials there were forced to delay primary elections by a month due to Hurricane Gustav. A primary runoff was required in those two districts, pushing the general election back to December 6.
In district 2, incumbent Rep. William Jefferson (D) – also under federal investigation – is favored to win re-election over Republican nominee Anh Cao. There’s an open seat in the 4th district, where Democrat Paul Carmouche is up against John Fleming Jr. (R).
Stay tuned to Congresspedia, where we’ll have the latest on these races and other developments.