The Democratic pursuit of the magic number of Senate seats received new life when Ted Stevens lost his Senate seat. AP

The Democratic pursuit of the magic number of Senate seats received new life when Ted Stevens lost his Senate seat. AP

The Democratic pursuit of 60 Senate seats received new life Tuesday night after Alaska Democrat Mark Begich was declared the winner against Ted Stevens, the longest-serving Republican in the Senate.

Begich defeated the Senate giant by a 3,724-vote margin after absentee and early votes were counted, a stunning end to a 40-year Senate career marred by Stevens’ conviction on corruption charges a week before the election.

Begich’s victory gives Democrats their 58th Senate seat, with the party still awaiting a pending recount in the too-close-to-call Minnesota Senate race and the Georgia Senate runoff next month. If Democrats win those two seats, they will reach a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate.

Democratic prospects of reaching 60 seats didn’t look so bright the day after the election. In Alaska, Stevens led Begich by more than 3,000 votes. In Minnesota, Republican Sen. Norm Coleman was holding a narrow lead. GOP Sen. Gordon Smith had not yet been declared the loser in the Oregon Senate race and in Georgia, Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss was just over the 50 percent mark necessary to win re-election in Georgia.

But over the ensuing two weeks, the landscape began to tilt in the Democrats’ favor. The Associated Press declared Jeff Merkley the winner over Smith in Oregon, Coleman’s lead shrank to 215 votes, Chambliss fell just short of the 50 percent threshold necessary for an outright victory, and Begich captured a majority of the nearly 90,000 absentee and early votes that were counted after Election Day to win the Alaska Senate seat.

Now, with the prospect of 60 Senate seats hanging in the balance, both parties are throwing everything they can at the two remaining undeclared races, pouring money, lawyers and field organizers into Georgia and Minnesota.

Developments on the ground suggest Democrats have a fighting chance of picking up both seats.

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