Georgia Senator Saxby Chambliss is an unlikely hero for the Republican party, with a record which has just enough questionable votes on key issues to make religious conservatives nervous, but not enough strong positions on civil liberties issues to make libertarian Republicans entirely happy with him. He’s often dismissed unfairly as a moderate, despite a record of fiscal and social issue conservatism. All of that was forgotten, when a very close election in Georgia put Chambliss in a runoff for what could have been the 60th Senate seat which would have given Democrats a filibuster-proof majority, reducing Senate Republicans to near-irrelevance.
Chambliss ended up in a runoff largely because of Libertarian candidate Allen Buckley who drew 3.41% of the vote, more than enough to push Chambliss from 49.75% to well over 50% and victory. Chambliss sought support from the Libertarian Party of Georgia in the runoff, but when it was not forthcoming he was able to get backing from libertarian Republican groups to win over libertarians and libertarian Republican voters. Although he did not get their endorsement in the original election, the combination of his fiscally conservative record and the importance of keeping total control of the House out of the hands of Democrats helped convince the Republican Liberty Caucus of Georgia to endorse Chambliss, and when he agreed to sign their Liberty Compact, the national RLC threw their support behind Chambliss as well.
That extra bit of support from the RLC won over many libertarians, and their votes along with some votes from independents who had previously voted for Chambliss’ oponnent Jim Martin, were enough to give Chambliss a comfortable 57% to 43% win in the runoff election on Tuesday, sending him back to Washington with a strong reminder that a lot of voters in Georgia and around the nation would like to see him focus more on fiscal conservatism and defending civil liberties in his next term.
The Chambliss victory prevents a Democratic super-majority in the Senate, but it still remains to be seen what the final breakdown of seats will be, as the disposition of the Minnesota seat held by Norm Coleman remains unresolved. Coleman’s apparent victory on election day is being whittled away by challenges and demands for precinct by precinct recounts from the campaign of comedian Al Franken who has brought in election strategist Mark Elias to mastermind what the Wall Street Journal has described as a blatant campaign to “steal the election if they can get away with it.” Coleman’s initial lead has been reduced to only about 200 votes through the machinations of Democratic operatives on election commissions and techniques like recounting so-called “undervotes” on the dubious theory that ballots with votes for Obama and no vote in the Senate race must have been meant to be Franken votes.
In the end the Minnesota Senate seat will probably be assigned by the courts – likely the Supreme Court itself – and their selection won’t be known until after the holidays. The comparison between these two elections, where third-party candidates made a clear majority impossible, shows the appeal of runoff systems. If the Minnesota vote had been followed by a runoff with the 15% of the vote which went to Independence Party candidate Dean Barkley up for grabs, the opportunities for fraud and manipulation would be reduced, the result would almost certainly not have been as close and they would not be struggling over which candidate who got less than 40% of the total votes to send to the Senate.
For now battered and bruised Republicans can rest a little bit easier knowing that with the Chambliss victory they will have at least some voice in the Senate if they have the backbone and stamina to filibuster on important votes.