Control of the Senate currently rests in a few ballot boxes in Montana and Virginia. As the UK media seem to lack any eye for detail (did anyone else see any of the appallingly bad coverage on Sky News overnight?) we thought we’d bring you a bit of proper analysis.
In Montana, we are waiting on the results from Meagher County. As it stands, Democratic challenger Jon Tester is just over 1700 votes ahead. Meagher is a traditional rural Republican county which went 72% for Bush in ’04. However, it is sparsely populated and normally only around a thousand of its residents turn out to vote. In theory, scandal-plagued Republican incumbent Conrad Burns could still turn it round, but in practice there just won’t be enough votes there unless something very suspicious happens.
More critical will be the rules about a recount – if the result is within a quarter of a percent then under Montana law the loser can request a recount and the State picks up the tab. A quarter of a percent would be about a thousand votes – so a good turnout from Meagher County would mean Burns gets a recount on the taxpayer, which he would probably take. If he is up to half a percent off, then he has to pick up the tab himself.
So, touching every available wood surface in The Daily’s newsroom, we reckon it’s a Tester victory in this count, but with a strong chance that there will be a recount and no final result for days.
The situation is similar in Virginia. Democratic challenger Jim Webb has a lead of just under 8000 over gaffe-prone GOP incumbent George Allen. There are precincts still to report in Loudoun County, Fairfax City and the Isle of Wight (no, really). Loudoun breaks pretty evenly, Fairfax leans Democratic and Isle of Wight leans Republican. The latter is more populous than Fairfax but there are more precincts still to go there. Though it may be Republican areas still to report, it’s extremely hard – again, touching wood – to see how Allen can find the numbers of votes to make a shock comeback.
But again, under Virginia state law, he can ask for a recount if the result is under 1% which seems certain. So, both states may well end up recounting votes over the days ahead, with the US Senate majority depending how the hanging chads land.
AP are now reporting that Tester has claimed victory in Montana. No info yet on whether there will be a recount, but at the very least, it would appear that the Republicans have lost their majority in the Senate. It now only remains to be seen if there will be a dead heat of 50/50 with Dick Cheney breaking the deadlock with the speaker’s casting vote, or whether the Democratic Party can get a majority of one senator.
In other news, Don Rumsfeld has resigned and will be replaced by former CIA head Robert Gates.