WASHINGTON (AFP) — The epic 2008 election may yet have a sting in its tail two weeks after election day, as Democrats pin hopes on three yet-to-be decided Senate races which could further tip the balance of power.
In a long-shot scenario, races in Alaska, Georgia and Minnesota could take Democrats to the magic 60-seat threshold which would frustrate Republican obstruction tactics.
Their next victory party could come as soon as Tuesday, with 24,000 absentee ballots set to be counted in Alaska in the race between convicted felon and Senate veteran Ted Stevens and Democrat Mark Begitch.
Anchorage mayor Begich leads Stevens — convicted of corruption days before the November 4 election — by 1,022 votes from a total 293,000 cast, according to the Alaska Elections Division.
Begich is favored by most analysts after performing better-than-expected in the 40-year-incumbent’s strongholds.
Some Republican senators, sensitive that the taint of corruption and scandal contributed to their drubbing by Democrats on November 4, have already said they will act to expel Stevens even if he wins the race.
Another undecided race will also be in the spotlight on Tuesday, with Minnesota Democrat and former comedian Al Franken expected in Washington, despite trailing Republican foe Norm Coleman by 206 votes pending a recount.
The hand recount, which starts Wednesday is drawing comparisons to the 2000 Florida presidential election recount debacle, with dueling lawsuits already flying.
A recent Dartmouth College study found that the key to the race could lie in 34,000 “residual ballots” — on which a preference was not properly registered, or too many options filled out.
Franken may be favored given the waver-thin margin and anecdotal evidence suggesting more residual votes may emanate from Democratic-leaning areas.
The final unresolved Senate race is in Georgia, where a run-off election will be held on December 2, after Republican incumbent Saxby Chambliss failed to surpass a 50 percent threshold on November 4.
Both parties are pouring money and resources into the state, which Chambliss won by 50 to 47 percent on November 4 over Democratic challenger Jim Martin.
Martin however may have been helped by a huge turnout among African Americans enthused by Barack Obama, and some analysts believe the key Democratic constituency may not vote in such high numbers in the run-off.
Defeated Republican presidential nominee John McCain came out of his post-election seclusion to campaign for Chambliss last week.
Former president Bill Clinton, still wildly popular among grass-roots Democrats, is expected to stump for Martin this week.