Investor Alert

Nov. 5, 2008, 4:16 p.m. EST

More Democrats in Congress, but 4 races close

Senate seats remain in doubt as tight contests have yet to be called

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By Robert Schroeder and Russ Britt, MarketWatch

WASHINGTON (MarketWatch) - President-elect Barack Obama will have a solid majority of Democrats getting his back when he takes office in January, as the party expanded its base in both the Senate and House in Tuesday's elections.

Whether Democrats can grab the 60 Senate seats they'd need to block Republican filibusters was in doubt, however, as four races still were too close to call.

U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., appeared headed for a runoff against Democratic challenger James Martin in his bid for re-election. The Atlanta-Journal Constitution reports that Chambliss had 49.9% of the vote to Martin's 47% and Libertarian Allen Buckley had 3%. Ninety-nine percent of precincts had reported.

Chambliss needs 50% of the vote plus one to avoid a Dec. 2 runoff.

In Minnesota, incumbent Republican Norm Coleman and Democrat Al Franken were caught in a tight Senate contest that prompted a recount. Coleman was ahead by roughly 700 votes in the contest, and the recount could take several weeks to complete.

Also seeking re-election, U.S. Sen. Gordon Smith, R-Ore., was about 8,000 votes ahead of challenger Jeff Merkley, with both candidates getting 47% of the vote. That race had yet to be called.

And in Alaska, convicted felon and Republican incumbent Ted Stevens clung to a slim lead over Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich. Stevens was convicted last week on seven counts of failing to report gifts received from Veco Corp., a violation of the Ethics in Government Act.

Stevens was ahead by 4,000 votes with 49,000 absentee and early ballots yet to be counted, plus thousands of questioned ballots, the Anchorage Daily News.

Democrats picked up at least five Senate seats in Tuesday's election. In the House, Democrats added at least 18 and perhaps as many as 22 seats. With at least 254 representatives and 56 senators (including two independents who frequently vote with them), the Democrats will have their largest majorities since the early 1990s.

In the House, Rep. Adam Putnam, the number three Republican, resigned his leadership post following the Election Day losses.

Meanwhile, it appeared that there would be one inter-party challenge among Democrats for a leadership post. Congressional Quarterly reports that U.S. Rep. Henry A. Waxman, D-Calif., will challenge Energy and Commerce Chairman John D. Dingell, D-Mich., for his top spot on one of Congress' most powerful committees.

Dingell has been the chairman or ranking Democrat on that commitee since 1981 and has shown no intention of stepping aside.

The Democrats' big presidential victory means they'll lose two senators, but won't lose their seats. Sens. Barack Obama and Joe Biden will be replaced by other Democrats, as Democratic governors in their states appoint their successors to two-year terms.

Democrats knocked off at least two Republican incumbent senators, and picked up three open seats previously held by Republicans.

In North Carolina, Democrat Kay Hagan defeated Republican incumbent Elizabeth Dole, and in New Hampshire former Gov. Jeanne Shaheen beat out Republican John Sununu.

In Virginia, former Democratic Gov. Mark Warner defeated former Republican Gov. Jim Gilmore for the spot being vacated by retiring Sen. John Warner (no relation).

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