The victory by Republican incumbent Saxby Chambliss in Georgia's Senate runoff removes all doubt — Barack Obama and the Democrats will not hold the 60 votes needed to overcome Senate filibusters when the new Congress convenes in January.
That goal never held quite the magic sometimes ascribed to it.
A party holding 60 Senate seats often finds that one or two a ideological dissidents can frustrate its purposes
A party just short of 60 can move ahead by picking off a couple of dissidents in the other party.
Democrats will hold a robust majority in any case. It's total of seats — 58 or 59, depending on the outcome of the long recount between Republican incumbent Norm Coleman and former Saturday Night Live comedian Al Franken in Minnesota — is the most either party has held in three decades.
That gives Obama a greater head start toward enacting his agenda — on economic stimulus, energy and health care — than he could have imagined when he set out to run for president two years ago.
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At the same time, the Georgia result underscores the limits on Obama's ability to transfer his popularity to others.
After running close to Chambliss on Election Day, Democratic challenger Jim Martin staked his runoff campaign on his ability to help Obama implement his agenda. But Chambliss cast his candidacy as a guarantee that Democrats won't go too far, too fast. That was enough in a fundamentally conservative state — especially without Obama at the top of the ticket to turbo-charge turnout among African-American Democrats.
Democrats might be able to increase their ranks in the Senate in the next election in 2010.
Political odds-maker Charlie Cook currently rates four Republican-held seats at risk, and no Democratic seats in jeopardy. But that initial advantage will collide with the historical tendency of the party holding the White House to lose ground in mid-term elections.