Republicans around the nation breathed a sigh of relief at Saxby Chambliss’ re-election yesterday, but no one could have predicted its scope.  Chambliss barely missed winning a majority four weeks earlier, but Jim Martin came within three points of Chambliss in the general election, and most observers figured on a relatively close race.  Instead, Chambliss won by a whopping 16 points:

Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) easily won reelection Tuesday night, trouncing his Democratic challenger in a runoff and thereby ensuring that the GOP will retain the ability to filibuster bills in the Senate.

With 97 percent of precincts reporting, Chambliss held 58 percent of the vote to Jim Martin’s 42 percent.

The result prevents Democrats from controlling the 60 seats in the Senate needed to override Republican filibuster efforts. Democrats have 56 seats, while two independents typically caucus with them. Republicans now have 41 seats and hope to hold one more, in Minnesota, where a recount between Sen. Norm Coleman and Democrat Al Franken remains to be decided.

Chambliss was introduced at his victory party Tuesday night by Republican National Committee Chairman Robert M. “Mike” Duncan as “Mr. 41,” and he declared that Republicans “now have the momentum” after his victory.

Momentum?  That’s an overstatement, but it does call into question the Democrats’ standing after the Obama phenomenon.  At least in Georgia, Obama had a lot more coattails than anyone credited.  I originally predicted that Chambliss would win by six or seven points without Barack Obama driving the turnout model, but his absence created a difference of 13 points between the two elections.  If that same dynamic holds true across the country in 2010, Obama may have an extremely disappointing midterm election and could find himself with at least one chamber of Congress under opposition control for the second half of his term.

Of course, one could also speculate that Republicans had a lot more motivation for turning out in this election to preserve the filibuster, a firebreak against the excesses of one-party governance.  But Democrats had a motivating factor in marginalizing Republicans for the next two years, and that didn’t seem to get them to the polls.  The general election did, and the only difference was that Obama was on the ticket.

Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi should take note: their modest gains in 2008 didn’t come as an endorsement of their previous two years of leadership in Congress.  If they think they can move even farther to the Left and survive the next midterms, they’re fooling themselves.

Gary Gross notes the other significant impact Chambliss’ victory will have.  Now that the 60-seat majority is officially dead, the Al Franken/Norm Coleman race in Minnesota suddenly loses a lot of its attraction for Harry Reid.  If Reid had a shot at 60, he might have interceded on Franken’s behalf by invoking the Senate’s authority to decide the election.  Without that motivation, Reid will almost certainly avoid such heavy-handed tactics, especially since Republicans could now bring the Senate to a standstill over it.