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Franken Has the Lead, but Coleman Has His Day in Court

By Chris Cillizza And Paul Kane
Monday, January 26, 2009

The longest-running Senate campaign in the nation heads into the home stretch this week. We think.

Today in St. Paul, Minn., a three-judge panel will kick off a trial featuring Norm Coleman, the incumbent Republican senator who, after an initial election-night count showed him ahead by a few hundred votes, finished 225 votes behind Democrat Al Franken when a full hand recount concluded earlier this month.

But the legal battle is just one piece of a multi-front campaign that continues three months after Minnesota residents cast 2.9 million votes. Each candidate continues to run a full-throttle public relations effort to make voters believe that he is the rightful victor.

Early on, the Franken campaign was more aggressive, flying in Washington lawyer Marc Elias to basically live out of a hotel room while running the legal effort.

Now, Coleman's campaign has picked up the slack. Benjamin Ginsberg, the renowned lawyer who led the 2000 Bush-Cheney campaign's Florida recount effort, has landed in Minnesota. "Franken's lead is ephemeral at best. It's like a sand castle with the tide coming in," Ginsberg told The Fix.

Coleman has also hired Gail Gitcho, whose job is to work with the national media covering the trial. Ginsberg worked with Gitcho on the Republican presidential campaign of former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney.

The trial of Coleman's challenge will be overseen by judges appointed by Democratic, Republican and independent governors of Minnesota. Coleman's attorneys are arguing that the canvassing board that oversaw the hand recount established no uniform standard for reviewing the nearly 13,000 absentee ballots rejected on Election Day. The board ultimately allowed in 933 such ballots, which tilted the race from a jump ball to a 225-vote edge for Franken.

Coleman hopes an additional 3,000 to 5,000 rejected absentee ballots will be allowed into the count, which could flip the race back to him. The lawyers also contend that this trial phase will allow them to fully litigate other issues, including Coleman's contention that more than 100 votes from a Franken-friendly precinct in Minneapolis were counted twice. Last night, the Coleman campaign even released a new commercial, via the Web, urging Franken to support Coleman's latest legal effort.

Meanwhile, the candidates got into the act of trying to create the aura of inevitability, with both men showing up at the Capitol last week.

Franken met with Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) in his Capitol offices Wednesday to discuss his potential committee assignments and the economic stimulus plan. "Welcome to Washington," Reid told Franken after reporters were allowed into the meeting.

Hours earlier, Coleman pleaded his case to Senate Republicans in a closed-door luncheon, laying out the trial process and asserting the strength of his argument.

Coleman won reassurances from his once -- and possibly future -- colleagues that they would not allow Democrats to seat Franken until the legal contest is resolved. "It remains the view of every single member of my [Republican] conference that the Minnesota Senate race will indeed be decided in Minnesota and not in Washington," said Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

The trial is expected to last three to four weeks, at which point we should know who the winner is -- unless there's an appeal to the state Supreme Court.

Blue to Red, Red to Blue

In 2008, gubernatorial races were the ugly stepchild of the election family. With just 11 races on the docket, the guvs were drastically overshadowed by the historic presidential race, Senate Democrats' push for 60 seats and an expanded Democratic majority in the House.

No longer.

As Republicans seek to pick up the pieces from shattering electoral losses, party strategists have made it clear that they will look to the states -- and governors in particular -- for the next generation of leaders. President Obama, too, understands the import of gubernatorial races in 2010; he named Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine as the chairman of the Democratic National Committee at least in part because of Kaine's record of running for and winning the top job in a purple state.

And, with the decennial census set for 2010 and a nationwide redistricting (in which the lines of every congressional district in the country are redrawn) to follow in 2011, control of governor's mansions is even more critical in this election.

All that adds up to tremendous volatility and intrigue -- two of The Fix's favorite words. Here are the five governorships likely to switch parties in 2010:

5. Oklahoma (Democratic-controlled). An open seat in the reddest state in the country (according to the 2008 presidential election) spells big trouble for Democrats. The Democratic field is surprisingly strong, with state Attorney General Drew Edmondson, who is well known in Sooner State politics, and Lt. Gov. Jari Askins both in the race. But, given the partisan nature of the state, almost any Republican will start off the general election as the favorite.

4. Hawaii (Republican-controlled). It's hard to imagine that Democrats won't win back the president's home state when this seat comes open in 2010. Gov. Linda Lingle (R) doesn't get enough credit nationally for her political savvy, but Hawaii's strong Democratic roots make it tough to build any sort of long-term Republican success. Lt. Gov. Duke Aiona (R) is the heir apparent to the Lingle legacy but doesn't get the same rave reviews Lingle drew when she was running in 2002. Democrats have yet to sort themselves out.

3. Kansas (D). As with Oklahoma, the underlying Republicanism of Kansas makes this a very tough hold for Democrats in an open-seat situation. Democratic recruiters still hold out hope that Rep. Dennis Moore will consider the race, but that seems like wishful thinking. The only other major Democratic candidate mentioned is state Treasurer Dennis McKinney. Sen. Sam Brownback (R) is returning home to run for governor and is the favorite.

2. Rhode Island (R). By the numbers, this is a seat Democrats should control. Obama won the state with 63 percent of the vote. And a number of high-profile Democrats are lining up for the race, while there are no obvious Republican stars. The X factor? Former senator Lincoln Chafee, who is contemplating a bid as an independent.

1. Wyoming (D). Don't be fooled by the success of term-limited Gov. Dave Freudenthal (D). Wyoming is still rock-ribbed Republican country, and this seat is going to be an almost impossible hold for Democrats.

Players

Matthew Miller, who spearheaded the communications operation at the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee during the 2008 election, is moving inside the walls of the Obama administration as chief spokesman for the Justice Department. With Eric H. Holder Jr. expected to be confirmed as attorney general this week, Miller will be jumping from the frying pan into the fire. He's had good practice. Before working under Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) at the DSCC, Miller was communications director for the successful 2006 Senate campaign of Robert Menendez (D-N.J.).

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