In the Loop: Need an Office? Norm Coleman's Is Available.

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As a "for lease" sign adorns Norm Coleman's former office in St. Paul, Minn., the challenger in that state's Senate contest, Al Franken, is making himself cozy in Washington. (By Christopher Hand)
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By Al Kamen
Friday, May 8, 2009

A passerby recently snapped a shot of Norm Coleman's office in St. Paul, Minn., which, it seems, is on the market. A few days ago, Coleman's name was removed from the door, though the Senate office designation remained.

But it's not what you think it is. Since Coleman is no longer a senator, a Hill official told us, "the Senate does not have the authority to maintain state office leases beyond the expiration of a senator's term, and we are awaiting notification of the election results from the state of Minnesota."

So is everyone else. The Al Franken camp is so confident that he'll emerge the senator from the Land of 10,000 Lakes that Franken actually met publicly with Vice President Biden on Wednesday at the White House -- a move that some of the state justices might not appreciate.

Still, most of the smart money seems to be leaning Franken's way in that court, which is known for moving with dispatch and might rule by the end of June or so. A loss there, especially if the court certifies the election, would put the Coleman camp in a tough spot. The most likely option would be to ask Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, the justice for that region, to freeze any action pending a review by the Supremes here.

Chances are that Alito would demur and refer the matter to the full court for review. But a vote to block state installation of Franken would require a majority of the high court -- a court that might be a tad disinclined to get involved in another contentious election, given the trauma of Bush v. Gore.

Despite the odds, those who saw the 50-to-1 Kentucky Derby winner know things can happen. And it's risky to bet against Coleman's lawyer, Ben Ginsberg -- whatever the handwriting on the glass door may tell you.

But it's looking Sen. Franken.

H1N1? Yawn.

Don't forget your entry for the Loop Name the Flu contest. The panic may be fading for the moment, but we could be dealing with this in the fall. And we need to come up with a better name -- more accurate than "swine flu," less wonky than "H1N1" -- for the virus. Something that people can remember, something bold like SARS, that might help remind them to wash their hands regularly.

The 10 winners will receive one of those coveted, fine-quality, In the Loop T-shirts. Send your entries via e-mail to nametheflu@washpost.comor mail them to In the Loop, The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071.You must include a phone number -- home, work or cell -- to be eligible. Deadline for entries is midnight Wednesday, May 13. Good luck.

Visit Mexico . . . Please

Speaking of swine flu, don't be surprised to see billboards, buses and TV ads soon blaring something like: "Hurry down to Mexico! Sunny beaches, blue waters and really, it's not as dangerous as they say."

The problem with all those gorgeous beaches now of course is, well, they're empty.

Facing a potential precipitous drop in tourism -- 80 percent of Mexico's dwindling annual tourists come from the United States -- government officials decided to take action, and fast. So they hired two powerhouse Washington public relations firms, Qorvis and Apco, to help spin the country out of its image crisis, what with rampant drug violence and the flu scare gripping the nation, our colleague Mary Ann Akers reports.

The two firms got a total of $1.2 million over one year, with the biggest chunk of the money going to Apco, according to sources familiar with the contracts.

As soon as the flu outbreak further stabilizes in Mexico, the epicenter of the global epidemic, the tourism ministry plans a full-throttle effort to announce, in the words of Mexican Embassy spokesman Ricardo Alday, "Mexico is out of the woods, and we're open for business."

He's optimistic that will be soon, perhaps within as few as 10 days. The decision to hire savvy spinmeisters was made back in February, and it originally centered solely on the out-of-control drug cartel violence -- until swine flu entered the public relations equation. Still, Alday says, the long-term focus of the PR strategy will remain on the drug problem. As he put it, "Drug violence might be here to stay a long time. The flu is going to go away."

Another Czar Confirmed

The Senate yesterday confirmed Seattle Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske as the director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy -- a.k.a. the drug czar.

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