Chambliss wins in Ga., foiling Democrats' bid to dominate U.S. Senate

December 03, 2008|By James Oliphant and Richard Fausset | James Oliphant and Richard Fausset,Tribune Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON -

The Democrats' dream of an overpowering, filibuster-proof majority in the U.S. Senate is officially on ice.

Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss held on to his Georgia Senate seat in a runoff yesterday, fending off a challenge from Democrat Jim Martin. Martin had forced a runoff last month after keeping Chambliss from attaining 50 percent of the vote, a requirement for office under Georgia law.

As it stands, Democrats will control 58 seats in the newly seated Senate, where 60 votes are needed to cut off debate on a bill and force a floor vote. After Chambliss' victory, only one Senate race - in Minnesota - remained undecided.

If Democrats had secured that super-majority, their ability to enact major legislation over Republican objections would have been substantially enhanced. This is why the Georgia contest drew national attention throughout November. Cash poured into the state from interest groups and the national political parties. Big-name politicians such as Bill Clinton, Al Gore, Sen. John McCain, and Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin campaigned there.

Yet one who didn't campaign for Martin - President-elect Barack Obama - could have had the greatest impact. Martin was able to advance to a runoff largely because African-Americans had turned out on Nov. 4 in huge numbers to vote for Obama.

But the fear among campaign workers in Georgia has been that such a wave would be nearly impossible to replicate. And indeed, after the polls closed yesterday, the turnout appeared to be down by more than two-thirds compared with a month ago.

Obama recorded one radio ad for Martin and more than 200 workers from his presidential campaign descended on the state after Election Day to help the cause. But otherwise, his vaunted campaign machine did not flex its muscle for Martin - and Obama never seemed to seriously consider taking time away from his presidential transition.

As a likely result, the Republicans outspent the Democrats, fueled by a business community apprehensive about congressional approval of legislation that would make it easier for nonunion workers to organize. Chambliss' win makes the so-called "card-check" bill much less likely to clear the Senate.

A former state representative, Martin wasn't well-known to voters outside of his native Atlanta and faced an uphill battle against Chambliss. Chambliss has portrayed himself as a "firewall"- the man who could torpedo the Democratic agenda in Congress.

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