Democrats Vie for Filibuster-Proof Senate

Democrats head into this Election Day hoping to widen the majorities they hold in both chambers of Congress when voters go to the polls, even holding out a glimmer of hope for a filibuster-proof 60-seat majority in the Senate.

And if they do, it would mean ousting some GOP stalwarts.

Several big names and longtime incumbents face tough ballot battles today, with Republican Minority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Sen. Elizabeth Dole, R-N.C., embroiled in stern challenges to hold onto their seats.

With a current 51-49 Senate majority, if Democrats hold all of their own seats and pick up nine more today -- a tall order indeed -- they would reach a filibuster-proof 60, at least on the occasions that the party votes in unison.

The so-called super-majority would allow Democrats to prevent Republicans from slowing or stopping legislation. The last time there was a filibuster-proof Senate was more than 30 years ago in 1977, during President Jimmy Carter's administration.

Even if they don't hit 60, today's voting could earn the Democrats enough seats to at least get close, thanks to the surging popularity at the top of their ticket and the suffering reputation of the GOP. Several experts predict the party has a strong likelihood of picking up seven or eight seats among the 11 most hotly-contested Senate races, putting them on the cusp of achieving a powerful voting majority.

ABCNews.com has focused on six key Senate races where, if the Democrats succeed, the party will take a strong hold of the Senate.

North Carolina

The Republican pedigree doesn't get any longer than Dole's, but she's facing a stiff battle from Democratic challenger Kay Hagan, who is benefiting from Sen. Barack Obama's popularity and support in the state.

Having served in both the Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush presidential administrations before becoming the first female senator from North Carolina, Dole's legacy seemed almost impossible to overcome.

But early voting numbers in North Carolina have shown a large turnout of African American voters, an indication that Obama's relentless campaigning in the state might be paying off for Hagan.

"This is an example of a Democratic senator riding on Obama's coattails," said Jennifer Duffy, the senior editor at The Cook Political Report. "At least 500,000 early voters have been African American, and Elizabeth Dole isn't getting those votes."

A Dole defeat would make it the first time in 35 years that the state has not voted a Republican into the Senate.

Princeton presidential historian Julian Zelizer says that in addition to benefiting from a large youth and African American turnout at the polls, Hagan is also profiting from Dole's association with the GOP.

"North Carolina is a case where you can see the Republicans being turned into the establishment party," said Zelizer. "Republicans were once the mavericks in Washington and the voices of change, but now after eight years of the Bush administration Dole has been effectively painted as a Washington insider."

"North Carolina is a bellweather in terms of the Republican party and how much that anti-establishment tactic [used by Democrats] is going to diminish Republican numbers," said Zelizer.

Most recently, a negative campaign ad released by Dole just days before the election referred to Hagan as "godless."

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