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Four Senate Seats Still Hang In Balance

While the 2008 presidential election came to a decisive conclusion on Election Day, four Senate race outcomes remained murky.

On Tuesday, Democrats coupled gains of at least 17 seats in the House with pickups of five Senate seats to bolster their existing congressional majorities.

But close results in Minnesota, Alaska, Georgia and Oregon - all seats Republicans hope to successfully defend - will likely require a combination of recounts and run-offs.

Minnesota

A slugfest for nearly two years, Minnesota's U.S. Senate race headed into a new round Wednesday as the campaigns girded for an automatic statewide recount to determine whether Republican Sen. Norm Coleman's bare lead over Democratic challenger Al Franken would stand. (Click here for complete Minnesota coverage)

Coleman declared himself the winner of Tuesday's election, but Franken said he would let the recount play out, hoping it would erase the incumbent's 475-vote lead out of nearly 2.9 million ballots. State officials said the recount wouldn't start until mid-November and would probably take weeks.

"Yesterday the voters spoke. We prevailed," Coleman said Wednesday at a news conference. He noted Franken could opt to waive the recount.

"It's up to him whether such a step is worth the tax dollars it will take to conduct," Coleman said, telling reporters he would "step back" if he were in Franken's position. Secretary of State Mark Ritchie said the recount would cost 3 cents per ballot, or almost $90,000.

As counties and Ritchie's office reconciled their unofficial vote totals Wednesday, Coleman's margin fluctuated but was at 475 votes Wednesday afternoon: Coleman had 1,211,642 votes, or 41.99 percent of the total votes cast, while Franken had 1,211,167 votes, or 41.98 percent.

Dean Barkley of the Independence Party was third with 15.16 percent.

State law provides for automatic recounts in races decided by a half-percentage point or less.

"We won't know for a little while who won the race, but at the end of the day we will know the voice of the electorate is clearly heard," Franken said Wednesday. "This has been a long campaign, but it is going to be a little longer before we have a winner."

Alaska

If Sen. Ted Stevens prevails in his tight re-election bid, he might be able to thank his reputation for bringing home the bacon. (Click here for complete Alaska coverage)

Stevens had appeared to be trailing before Tuesday, but with nearly all precincts reporting, he held a razor-thin lead Wednesday over Democrat Mark Begich, a popular two-term Anchorage mayor.

With 99 percent of precincts reporting Wednesday, Stevens led with 48 percent of the vote, compared with 47 percent for Begich - with only about 3,500 votes separating the two.

Stevens' political future hangs in the balance with the counting of roughly 60,000 absentee ballots, as well as 9,000 early votes and questioned ballots. Those votes won't be counted for days.

Stevens was convicted last week of seven felonies for failing to disclose more than $250,000 in gifts and services from Bill Allen, a former friend and oil services company executive.

He would be the first convicted felon re-elected to the U.S. Senate. But his colleagues also could expel him, putting an end to the longest run by a Republican in the history of the Senate.

Georgia

The last seat of the new Senate will likely be determined by a runoff in Georgia, where Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss apparently came just short of winning enough votes to send him to a second term. (Click here for complete Georgia coverage)

With 99 percent of precincts reporting Wednesday, Chambliss had 49.8 percent of the vote, shy of the 50 percent plus one required under state law to avoid a runoff. The mild-mannered Democrat Jim Martin, a former Georgia legislator and once-reluctant Senate candidate, won 46.8 percent of the vote. Libertarian Allen Buckley pulled 3.4 percent.

Some absentee votes were still being counted late Wednesday. However, if the current results hold, Chambliss would face Martin on Dec. 2.

"We're prepared for a runoff. We have already hit the ground," said Chambliss, who was expected to coast to re-election in reliably GOP Georgia before the nation's economy faltered, fueling a wave of anti-incumbent frustration. Some conservatives were angered that Chambliss backed the $700 billion bailout.

Martin said he had already been in touch with Barack Obama's campaign, but there were no immediate plans for the president-elect to visit Georgia. "The runoff race begins right now," Martin said.

It would be the first test of whether Obama can mobilize voters when he is not on the ballot. On Tuesday, Democrats added three seats to their Senate majority, but even if they swept the remaining still undecided races, they would fall short of the filibuster-proof, 60-vote majority.

Oregon

Republican Sen. Gordon Smith and Democratic challenger Jeff Merkley remain in a close race, with the largest block of votes yet to be counted in Oregon's most populous county, Multnomah. (Click here for complete Oregon coverage)

At midmorning Wednesday, Smith held a lead of about 7,000 votes with about two-thirds of the estimated vote tallied.

Merkley is likely to have strong support in Multnomah County, a liberal stronghold.

The race is one of four U.S. Senate seats that are still too close to call.

Smith is a two-term incumbent, and Merkley is speaker of the Oregon House.

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