Not since Robert Byrd was majority leader of the 95th Congress in 1977 has one party held a filibuster proof majority in the United States Senate. Current polling show that the magic number of 60 is a distinct possibility for the Democrats. The current breakdown of the United States Senate is 49 Democrats, 49 Republicans, and 2 Independents. The Independents, Bernie Sanders (VT) and Joe Liberman (CT) caucus with the Democrats, and thus the Democrats are the majority party.
The United States Senate is unlike any other legislative body in our nation. 41 Senators can bring the Senate to a screeching halt with a filibuster. A filibuster can only be broken by a cloture vote, which requires the concurrence of 60 Senators. This requirement of a super majority causes the Senate to work out compromises which many times water down legislation that passes the House by a simple majority.
The Democrats came into the 2008 election cycle with a distinct advantage to add to their 49 seats. A number of long time Republicans chose to retire. Pete Domenici (R-NM), John Warner (R-VA), and Wayne Allard (R-CO) decided not to seek re-election. All three of these seats will most likely be occupied by Democrats come January. Former Governor Mark Warner has consistently polled at or above 60 percent in the Virginia contest against former Governor James Gilmore. Tom Udall also has consistently polled 15 points or more ahead of Steve Pearce in New Mexico. Tom's cousin Mark Udall has been ahead of Bob Schaffer by smaller but consistent margins in Colorado.
Jeanne Shaheen has solidified a high single digit lead in New Hampshire against incumbent Republican John Sununu in a 2002 rematch. Sununu has trailed in the polls except for a short period following the GOP convention in early September.
Three other seats see incumbent Republicans in serious danger of losing their seats. Ted Stevens (R-AK) is embroiled in a federal criminal trial for accepting gifts in excess of $250,000 from an Alaska businessman. If he loses the trial, his election chances are very dim against Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich. If he wins his trial, he may retain his seat. The 84 year old Stevens is the longest serving Republican Senator in history.
Gordon Smith (R-OR) is locked in a close race in the blue state of Oregon. Smith has tried to distance himself from the Republicans, and has gone as far as using Barack Obama in his television ads. Jeff Merkley has been running a tough campaign that sees him consistently ahead in the polls.
Elizabeth Dole (R-NC), wife of former Senator Bob Dole, has fallen behind Kay Hagan after leading by 15 points this summer. North Carolina has been trending to Obama, and the Obama camp has put a lot of time and money into voter registration and get out the vote efforts.
Comedian and talk radio host Al Franken has seen strong gains in his race to unseat Norm Coleman in Minnesota. Franken will not lose this race for lack of effort. Coleman has aired a multitude of ads attempting to use Franken's comedic career against him. His efforts have increased both candidates negatives. There is also a third party candidate in this race who should garner 10 to 15 percent of the vote.
Three other seats in the Republican South now seem obtainable for the Democrats, Roger Wicker (R-MS), Saxby Chambliss (R-GA), and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) still lead by small margins, but all have seen their double digit leads evaporate.
In 2006, Democrats took five out of six of the hotly contested Republican controlled seats. If Obama continues to increase his lead in the polls, his coattails may help the Democrats run the table and achieve a 60 plus seat majority. Obama would have a much easier time pushing his agenda through a filibuster proof Senate.