Whatever happens in the race for the White House — and Gallup tracking, which samples 1000 voters a day and aggregates the results every three days, has them back at level pegging, 45-44, Obama-McCain — it’s worthwhile remembering that this is not a Westminster fight between two all-in-one potentially governing parties, but a competition for two separate powers. And in the second fight, for Congress, the Republicans know they’ve got Buckley’s.

They lost Congress in 2006 — though sometimes you wouldn’t know it, given the Democrats highly disciplined/p-ssweak (choose) determination not to put Obama into a position of defending any hi-jinks — and the Dems’ 20 seat majority in the House of Representatives is likely to go up to 50 or even 70 in a 435-seat house.

That would be a sufficient majority for something resembling party discipline to be enforced — even in the loosely bound US context, where every major bill demands a majority be constructed afresh — but of greater importance is what might happen in the Senate, which is practically a second and a half arm of government.

The holy grail in the Senate is a 60-40 majority — or two or three more, to be on the safe side — because it allows the ruling party to gain cloture, a fancy way of saying that it can cut off debate and bring a bill to a vote, thus ensuring that it isn’t filibustered out, ie. talked out until a vote can’t be held (these days it’s not necessary to actually talk out the filibuster by reading Dickens into the record, etc — you can just record your intention to filibuster and that serves. That seems to defeat the purpose of the parliamentary tool, but since it is ridiculous, a spandrel, in any case, the point seems moot).

With control of the House, the White House, and a cloture majority in the Senate, the Democrats would be in a position to determine the composition of the other branch of power, the Court, and — should they have the will, which seems increasingly doubtful — enforce real change in a country where 47 million people have no health cover, another 50 million or so have inadequate cover, 18,000 people die a year of easily curable medical conditions, 20% of the working poor are technically homeless, and well, you can probably hum it by now.

That great event, unimaginable a couple of years ago, just got one stage closer with the indictment today of Alaska senator Ted Stevens, the Republican senior Senator (40 years), caught as part of a complex corruption sting which netted a brace of Alaska’s state politicians including Stevens’s son.

The state pollies caught are on tape, in hotel rooms, joking about how corrupt they are, talking about how they’d gladly sell their soul to the devil to help the oil companies, etc. Stevens, meanwhile, was pinged for allegedly getting improvements done to his Anchorage home, to the tune of about a quarter million. It’s always the small — relatively speaking — stuff.

The Republicans still have to run their senate primary, and half a dozen people have already put their hand up to try and knock Stevens off. But the tendency of Americans to vote eclectically — red states often return Democrat senators and vice versa — may kick this otherwise conservative state, where Stevens has a Kim Il-Sung type profile (his birthday was once declared an Alaskan holiday, and he was officially nominated the “century’s greatest Alaskan”) into the blue column.

Of the 33 Senate seats up for grabs (a third go up for grabs every two years), no Democratic holdings are unsafe. Republican seats virtually certain to cross over are Virginia, New Mexico, and Colorado, likely are New Hampshire and Mississippi, and there’s a chance of Minnesota and Oregon. Alaska was in the longshot category, but the indictment just slungshot it into the toss-up category.

The current Senate line-up is 49 Republicans, 49 Democrats, one Independent voting Democrat (Bernie Sanders of Vermont, self-described socialist), and one douchebag (Joe Lieberman). So presuming that said scumsucker Lieberman can still be relied on for domestic policy, the Dems would need all the above eight seats, and another one at least — Maine or North Carolina being the possibilities.

Longshot, but possible.

But there’s another way of course, thanks to the porousness — read flagrant opportunism — of the system, and that would be to persuade one-three moderate Republicans to change party affiliation with the promise of committee chair positions, state pork and more.

Is this likely? The way the Republicans are at the moment, it may be more likely than an Obama victory.

Which would be veeeeerry interesting.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey