Stump time again in states with close races

WASHINGTON -- Sen. John McCain is scheduled to visit Georgia on Thursday to campaign for GOP Sen. Saxby Chambliss, and Sarah Palin may not be far behind. Mitt Romney on Tuesday gave $5,000 to Minnesota Sen. Norm Coleman as he monitors a statewide recount. And the counting of absentee and mail-in ballots resumes today in Alaska.

The campaign isn't over yet in three Senate races, and the stakes are high: If Democrats win them all, they could secure a majority large enough to steamroll over Republican objections to their agenda.

In Minnesota, a razor-close election triggered an automatic hand recount; in Alaska, tens of thousands of votes are uncounted. That leaves in doubt the fate of Republican Sens. Coleman and Ted Stevens of Alaska.

In Georgia, Chambliss won more votes than his Democratic opponent, Jim Martin. Even so, Chambliss didn't get 50%, so voters will decide in a Dec. 2 runoff.

Three House races are also too close to call in Virginia, Ohio and California, though Democrats are in firm control of the House, having added 20 seats to their 36-seat majority.

For the Senate and President-elect Barack Obama, the outcomes are significant. After picking up six Senate seats Nov. 4, Democrats will control 57 seats, three short of the 60 votes needed to overcome Republican filibusters. That tally includes independents Joe Lieberman and Bernie Sanders.

Democrats, who won control of the Senate after the 2006 elections, held a pre-election 51-49 voting majority, including the independents. Under Senate rules, 41 senators can block legislation by threatening a filibuster, and Republicans over the past two years used that tactic a record number of times to stop Democrat-backed bills. With 60 Democratic votes, Obama would have a far stronger hand to pass his agenda.

Chambliss opponent Martin has asked the president-elect to campaign for him, Martin spokesman Matt Canter said. "We don't know if he'll be able to come, but his campaign team has been a tremendous help," Canter said. A hundred Obama organizers are coming to Georgia, he said.

McCain is the featured guest at an afternoon rally for Chambliss on Thursday. Palin, his running mate, may come to the state as well, his spokeswoman Ashley Nelson said.

In the Alaska governor's home state, about 30% of the votes remained uncounted, including 61,000 absentee votes, more than 20,000 questioned ballots and 9,500 early votes. But as many as half of those votes were to be tallied tonight.

Stevens, who recently was found guilty of seven felonies, led Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich by 3,257 votes as of Tuesday.

In Minnesota, Coleman leads comedian Al Franken by just 206 votes out of 2.9 million cast. About 25,000 ballots contained a vote for president but not for the Senate race, according to the secretary of State's office.

An automatic statewide recount is due to start next Wednesday, said Fritz Knaak, lead counsel for the Coleman recount campaign. Both campaigns are raising money for recount-monitoring efforts.

Statistician Nate Silver, who predicted the presidential popular vote, says on his website,, that Begich and Franken may win.

The fact that Begich has won about 61% of the early ballots counted so far, compared with 48% of ballots cast on Election Day, suggests that the Democrat will win a majority of the outstanding votes, Silver writes.

And in Minnesota, the recount will catch incorrectly filled-out ballots that voting machines missed, Silver says. A 2001 study by the House Committee on Government Reform found that voters in low-income, high minority districts were more likely to have their ballots discarded, Silver notes. Lower income people and minorities tend to vote for Democrats.

"In my experience it's more likely, with the seniors' vote, to cut Norm's way," Knaak said. "But who knows?"