Six midterm races that might be headed for recounts

By Aaron Blake and Felicia Sonmez
Sunday, October 17, 2010

From Florida to Washington state, several midterm races raise the specter of the contested election results in Florida in 2000 and Minnesota in 2008. Which contests might trigger recount battles starting Nov. 3?

Nevada's Senate race

No other contest this year has been as close for as long, with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D) and former state assemblywoman Sharron Angle (R) running neck and neck since the June primary. The latest Real Clear Politics average of polls shows the two tied at exactly 45.4 percent. No other race has such high stakes, either; the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee last week shifted its resources out of Missouri and into Nevada after Angle announced that her campaign had raised a staggering $14 million between July 1 and Sept. 30. A quirk in Nevada's election law allowing voters to select "none of these candidates" only adds to the intrigue in a race that seems certain to go down to the wire.

Florida's governor's race

Did we mention that Florida has a history of this kind of thing? The governor's contest is a nail-biter. A Quinnipiac University poll last week in the open race showed former health-care executive Rick Scott (R) at 45 percent and state Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink (D) at 44 percent. Remember, Florida is slated to gain seats in Congress -- and the next governor will preside over a redistricting process that could give more seats to Republicans or Democrats, depending on how the map is drawn.

Illinois's Senate race

Rep. Mark Kirk (R) and state Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias (D) have been polling close for months. In fact, there hasn't been a reputable, non-automated poll this year that has shown either candidate leading outside the margin of error. Both come into the final weeks damaged -- Kirk because of misstatements about his military record and Giannoulias because of his family bank's loans to convicted felons. This is President Obama's old Senate seat, so both sides are motivated by prestige.

Alaska's Senate race

Little-known lawyer Joe Miller rode a wave of tea party support -- not to mention an endorsement by former governor Sarah Palin -- to a narrow victory over Sen. Lisa Murkowski in August's Republican primary. Now Murkowski is running as a write-in candidate against Miller and Sitka Mayor Scott McAdams (D). History hasn't been kind to write-ins; the only person to win election to the Senate without his name appearing on the ballot was Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.) in 1954. Still, Murkowski has the benefit of pedigree (her father, Frank Murkowski, served as a senator and governor), and polls show that the three-way race is extremely competitive.

Colorado's Senate race

The White House has put itself on the line in Colorado, where Sen. Michael Bennet (D) is running for his first full term. Bennet, who was appointed by Gov. Bill Ritter (D) after Obama tapped then-Sen. Ken Salazar (D) to serve as interior secretary, struggled through a tough primary against former state House speaker Andrew Romanoff. Now, he faces an even tougher race against Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck (R), a tea party favorite who has the backing of conservative kingmaker Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.). Obama headlined several fundraisers and a tele-town hall for Bennet during the primary but has yet to stump for him in the general-election campaign.

Washington's 3rd District

Two well-regarded state legislators -- Rep. Jaime Herrera (R) and former representative Denny Heck (D) -- are squaring off in Washington state, where the swingy 3rd District went for President George W. Bush in 2004 and Obama in 2008. Control of the House or the Senate could hinge on the last ballots counted here. Washington is known for epic recounts; it took months for Gov. Chris Gregoire (D) to overcome an apparent 261-vote loss to beat Republican Dino Rossi in 2004. And the state's painfully slow process for counting mail-in ballots means contests can last well past Election Day, even if there isn't a recount.

Aaron Blake and Felicia Sonmez write for "The Fix," a Washington Post politics blog.

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