WASHINGTON — With four razor-close U.S. Senate races yet to be decided, Democrats hoped on Wednesday to further expand their majority in the new Congress and act quickly with President-elect Barack Obama on an ambitious agenda.
If all four races go to Democrats, they would end up for the first time in three decades with the 60 seats needed in the 100-member Senate to pass legislation even in the face of Republican procedural hurdles.
"Democrats would have to run the table, but they still have a slim shot at doing it," said Jennifer Duffy who tracks Senate races for the nonpartisan Cook Political Report.
"We don't see it happening," a Democratic party aide said. "But we'll see."
Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi said regardless how many seats her Democratic party ends up with from Tuesday's elections, it's ready to work with Obama, particularly on a new stimulus package to ease the worst economic crisis since The Great Depression.
"Our priorities have tracked the Obama campaign priorities," Pelosi told a Capitol Hill news conference. "The growth of our economy, the education of our children, the health of our people, the end of dependence on foreign oil, and the end of the war in Iraq."
In Tuesday's election, Democrats gained five seats to raise their Senate majority to 56 in the new Congress that convenes in January. But some Democrats said they had no chance at 60.
Their prospects changed, however, with the tightening of a number of races, including a three-way contest in Georgia involving incumbent Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss that appeared headed toward a runoff next month.
Winners had also yet to be declared in three other races involving Republican incumbents — Sens. Norm Coleman in Minnesota, Gordon Smith in Oregon and Ted Stevens in Alaska. All three hold slim leads on Wednesday.
Democrats, who control the House, 235-199 with one vacancy, were projected to pick up about 20 seats, somewhat fewer than the number earlier predicted by analysts. A number of races remained undecided on Wednesday.
Even if Senate Democrats fall short of a "filibuster-proof majority" of 60 that would allow them to overcome Republican procedural roadblocks, they expect to win over at least few moderate Republicans in the new Congress to pass major legislation.
Democrats won the Senate and House two years ago, but Republicans routinely blocked legislation on matters from withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq and additional economic stimulus to health care and energy.
"The American people have called for a new direction," Pelosi said. "A very important part of that change will be the bipartisanship, the civility in which we engage in our dialogue and the fiscal responsibility that we bring to our legislation."
Because of a record federal deficit and the deteriorating economy, Democrats will have to limit or postpone any big new spending programs, such as ones to expand health care, upgrade education and advance renewable energy technology.
House Republican Leader John Boehner congratulated Obama, but made it clear he would be challenged on Capitol Hill.
"Congressional Republicans in the next two years will be judged on our own record, our own vision and our own agenda -- and our willingness to hold Washington Democrats accountable," Boehner said in announcing he would seek re-election as his party's leader.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell also congratulated Obama and said, "The Republican leadership stands ready to hear his ideas for implementing his campaign promises of cutting taxes, increasing energy security, reducing spending and easing the burden of an immense and growing national debt."
"On these, and other bipartisan issues, he will find cooperation in the Senate," McConnell said.
Riding an anti-Republican wave generated largely by the unpopularity of President George W. Bush, and a crush of enthusiasm created by the charismatic Obama, Democrats had one of their best elections in more than a decade.
In fact, it was the first time since 1992 that Democrats won both chambers of Congress as well as the White House when Bill Clinton led their ticket.
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