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December 20, 2014

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ELECTION 2008:

Ensign in campaign mode again in battle for Georgia Senate seat

Runoff could give Dems a supermajority

So much for the post-election getaway to Napa Valley.

Nevada Sen. John Ensign, who quipped that he was headed to wine country after the elections, will be back on the campaign trail today for Sen. Saxby Chambliss in the Georgia runoff.

The Georgia race is drawing national attention as one of three Senate races that remain undecided and could push Democrats closer to the coveted 60-seat majority.

More than 100 aides to Barack Obama’s campaign are pouring into the state for Democratic challenger Jim Martin. Republican Sen. John McCain will stump for Chambliss on Thursday in his first campaign appearance since the presidential election.

If Democrats were to win all three remaining races in Georgia, Alaska and Minnesota, which experts say is unlikely, they could reach the filibuster-proof majority that would make it easier to pass legislation without opposition.

As head of Republican efforts to win Senate seats, Ensign cannot take the chance that Georgia would fall, said Jennifer Duffy, who analyzes Senate races for the Cook Political Report.

“I’m sure he’s thinking, ‘Wasn’t I supposed to be out of here Nov. 5?’ ” Duffy said. “There’s nothing he can do in Alaska and nothing he can do in Minnesota” where votes are still being counted. But Georgia is “a race they have to win.”

Ensign has had a tough time leading his party’s efforts in an election year that has been brutal for Republicans. He joked with reporters two weeks ago that he was headed to Napa as soon as it was over — a nod to the difficult time he spent at the helm.

But the final stretch is proving no less daunting.

Beating Chambliss was a long-shot for Democrats, but as the senator’s lead began to erode with the economic downturn, the party added resources to the state.

Black voters in Georgia flocked to the polls in early voting, further enhancing the Democrat’s chances.

Chambliss led Martin with 49.8 percent of the votes after election night but neither, candidate won a majority, requiring a runoff by state law. The election is scheduled for Dec. 2.

Veterans groups are also eyeing Chambliss for having beat Democratic Sen. Max Cleland in a tough 2002 race that some say challenged the patriotism of the Vietnam veteran and triple amputee.

Experts say Chambliss could benefit from low voter turnout and the loss of the third-party candidate, a Libertarian, who will not be on the runoff ballot.

Ensign has been trying to stop further losses in all three undecided races. Democrats picked up six Senate seats since the election, widening Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s margin to 57 seats.

Ensign sent a fundraising letter to donors last week asking for help in the remaining races, including Alaska where convicted Sen. Ted Stevens is in a tight bid for re-election against Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich.

Ensign had previously said Stevens should resign as he appeals his conviction on felony charges of failing to report gifts.

Ensign’s committee is monitoring the race in Minnesota, where he had congratulated Sen. Norm Coleman on his victory only to see the contest narrow to a few hundred votes. Democratic challenger, comedian Al Franken, is seeking a recount.

As the runoff campaign began in Georgia, Ensign’s committee launched a new TV ad Monday warning that despite Obama’s victory and widened margins in the House and Senate, “the liberals aren’t done yet.”

“It all comes down to Georgia,” the speaker says. “Don’t give Obama a rubber stamp Senate.”

Ensign’s staff wouldn’t say whether he made it to Napa last week. But perhaps the next getaway is in the works.

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