Franken Looks Like a Winner, but Not Quite a Senator

Al Franken met with Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California in November. If rulings go the way they appear to be going, the two Democrats will soon be colleagues.
Al Franken met with Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California in November. If rulings go the way they appear to be going, the two Democrats will soon be colleagues. (By Lauren Victoria Burke -- Associated Press)
By Chris Cillizza And Paul Kane
Monday, January 5, 2009

He's good enough, he's smart enough, and, gosh darn it, he's a U.S. senator?

Not yet, but recent developments in the unending recount in Minnesota's Senate race have given entertainer Al Franken (D) a burst of momentum over Sen. Norm Coleman (R) and left national Democrats increasingly confident that the Gopher State will fall into their column sooner rather than later.

Although Franken trailed Coleman on election night, the Democrat -- thanks in part to the ace work of election lawyer Marc Elias -- has gained steadily ever since. A hand recount of the nearly 3 million ballots cast turned the race into a dead heat, and the recent counting of 933 wrongly rejected absentee ballots (don't ask) yielded a 225-vote edge for Franken heading into today's meeting of the state Canvassing Board, in which a winner -- presumably Franken -- will be named.

So, why won't Franken be a senator later today? Because of pending legal challenges that the incumbent's campaign thinks can sway the outcome -- the most important of which, dealing with the inclusion of 654 allegedly wrongly rejected absentee ballots (from largely pro-Coleman territory), will be decided by the Minnesota Supreme Court.

"We remain convinced that this process is broken and, as a result, the numbers being reported will not be accurate or valid," said Coleman's campaign manager, Cullen Sheehan.

Even if the state's highest court disallows the counting of those 654 ballots, expect Coleman's legal team to formally contest the recount, citing alleged irregularities that include the double-counting of roughly 150 votes and the inclusion of 133 ballots (cast, in a Dickensian twist, at a Minneapolis church) that disappeared between election night and the manual recount.

"The Coleman team has laid the groundwork for a real, substantive challenge in front of the Minnesota Supreme Court," said Vin Weber, a former member of Congress from Minnesota and now a lobbyist in Washington. "The race is still a ways from being over."

Democratic strategists, however, say that even if all of Coleman's challenges -- the 654 absentees, the double-counting and the church ballots -- fall the Republican's way, he still will not be able to overcome Franken's lead.

"With the Senate set to begin meeting on Tuesday to address the important issues facing the nation, it is crucial that Minnesota's seat not remain empty, and I hope this process will resolve itself as soon as possible," said Sen. Charles E. Schumer (N.Y.), former chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

Schumer isn't likely to get his wish when the incoming freshman Senate class is sworn in tomorrow. National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn (Texas) promised that his party would stage a filibuster if Democrats -- as suggested by Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar -- sought to seat Franken. "It is very clear that the people of Minnesota and the courts in Minnesota should make the decision about who won the Minnesota Senate election and not political leaders in Washington, D.C.," Cornyn said in a conference call with reporters late last week.

Privately, some Republican insiders are contemplating a next move for Coleman if he comes up short in the recount. One well-connected GOP operative said that Coleman is being mentioned as a possible chairman of the Republican National Committee.

Every Day Counts

Here's another confusing wrinkle to consider with the appointment process for several Senate seats: seniority.

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2009 The Washington Post Company