Dems Getting Closer to Sixty?

While Minnesota recounts the ballots, Dems win key Oregon race.

Nov. 6, 2008 -- The record 2.9 million ballots cast in Minnesota's Senate race will get an automatic recount after incumbent Republican Norm Coleman's apparent narrow victory over Democratic challenger Al Franken.

Now, fewer than 500 votes stand between the candidates.

On Tuesday night, Coleman declared himself the victor of one of the most hotly contested and expensive races of the election season. Franken, who had the option of waiving the recount by conceding the race, pledged to follow the process through till the end.

According to Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, the process will begin in mid-November with no set end date while the ballots are recounted by hand at the county level. The recount will involve hundreds and cost the state almost $90,000, Ritchie estimated during a news conference Wednesday.

"I recognize that because of my margin of victory, Mr. Franken has a right to pursue an official review of the election results. It is up to him whether such a step is worth the tax dollars it will take to conduct," Coleman said in his Tuesday night victory speech.

During a Wednesday news conference, Franken deemed the race "too close to call."

"Let me be clear," Franken said. "Our goal is to ensure that every vote is properly counted. The process dictated by our laws will be orderly, fair and will begin within a matter of days. We won't know for a little while who won the race, but at the end of the day, we will know that the voice of the electorate was clearly heard."

Independent candidate Dean Barkley, who was successful in garnering support from voters tired of the Coleman-Franken horse race, came away from the Tuesday contest with 15 percent of the vote.

Of the country's 35 Senate races this year, Minnesota's was one of the most expensive. Combined, Coleman and Franken raised upward of $32 million, with experts predicting that outside groups trying to influence the election had spent an equal amount.

After a 15-year run on late-night comedy hit show "Saturday Night Live," Franken worked hard to shed his funnyman facade for a more serious political presence. And he brought serious political players along for the ride: Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., campaigned as recently as last week for Franken and appeared in one of his ads.

Democrat-turned-Republican Coleman also brought political star power to the North Star State. Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani campaigned with him last week, though ultimately, the first-term senator's ties to the Bush administration made him vulnerable in the state electorate.

Come January, if the recount ends in Franken's favor, the comedian-turned-politician will join six other Democrats who defeated Republican incumbents for their Senate seats, two of them in key states and some of them high-profile losses for the GOP on the national stage.

In North Carolina, Republican incumbent Sen. Elizabeth Dole's reign ended in an upset from Democratic challenger Kay Hagan. In New Hampshire Democrat Jeanne Shaheen wrested the Granite State's Senate seat from incumbent Sen. John Sununu. And in Oregon, incumbent Republican Sen. Gordon Smith has conceded to Democratic challenger Jeff Merkley.

Alongside the Minnesota Senate race, two others -- in Georgia and Alaska -- hang in the balance and with them Democratic and Republican congressional fortunes.

In both Alaska and Georgia, the Republican incumbents are maintaining slim leads, raising GOP hopes that they may stop the bleeding before Democrats gain a filibuster-proof 60-seat majority for the first time in a generation.

ABC News' Emily Friedman and Troy McMullen contributed to this report.