Standing outside his modest SE Portland ranch home with his wife Mary Sorteberg, Jeff Merkley was all smiles, but declined to claim victory in his Senate race against incumbent Gordon Smith. (Merkley apparently hasn't seen MY projections, which currently put him at a roughly 50K vote victory when this whole thing is over).

UPDATE at 6:34 pm: I've updated my numbers with new data from the counties with the most outstanding votes. I'm still projecting Merkley ahead by 53K votes when this is over, 867,850 to 814,190. And the Oregonian has called the race.

Merkley says this race "may be the factor in this nation moving forward." When he defeats Smith (when, not if), he'll be the 57th Democratic senator. It's not filibuster-proof, but it's a strong majority.

With so many outstanding votes in Lane and Multnomah counties, Merkley says he's "optimistic." And those counties are "really the basis of our optimism."

One reporter asked if he'd end up with a mandate. Merkley noted that "it's a very rare thing when an incumbent Senator is defeated," with that only happening one other time in Oregon history. Even if the margin is slim, it's a "huge statement saying no, we really do need to change direction."