The plot thickened yesterday in the closest congressional race of 2002 as Democrat Mike Feeley went to court in Denver for a ruling on how about 2,000 unopened votes should be counted. With Republican Bob Beauprez leading Feeley by 386 votes in the initial count, the winner in Colorado's new 7th District will be determined by the "provisional ballots" cast in the three suburban Denver counties that comprise the district.

As verification of the provisional ballots continued last week, it emerged that two of the counties were using different rules from the third in determining which of the ballots were valid. As a result, more votes were being voided in the more reliably Democratic parts of the district. Yesterday, Feeley's campaign asked a state judge to order that all three counties treat the ballots the same way.

The Democrat's lawyers invoked the same theory that the Supreme Court used in 2000 to make George W. Bush president -- that the Constitution's equal protection clause is violated if counties tally votes differently. The five justices in the Bush v. Gore majority argued then that their ruling should not be used as precedent by other candidates. "But the case is on the books, and we're saying the same rule should be followed here," said Feeley's lawyer Mark Grueskin, of Denver.

A hearing was scheduled for today. The suit means the winner of the 7th District race won't be known until tomorrow at the earliest.

A Belated Backing

It's been a surprisingly fractious election season for Louisiana Republicans, but Gov. Mike Foster finally announced that he is supporting his party's Senate candidate, Suzanne Haik Terrell.

"This campaign is about who can best work with President Bush in the U.S. Senate on issues that are important to Louisiana and the nation," he said yesterday in a statement. "I believe that, clearly, Suzie Terrell is that person."

Earlier this fall, Foster feuded with the Bush administration after the National Republican Senatorial Committee announced it was backing Terrell. She was just one of three candidates the party ran against Sen. Mary Landrieu (D) in the hopes of forcing her into a runoff. Under that state's unusual election rules, the winner of the Nov. 5 election must take at least 50 percent of the vote to avoid such a contest.

The strategy worked -- Landrieu will face Terrell in a Dec. 7 runoff. But it seemed to divide the party as much as it did the electorate. Foster had backed one of Terrell's rivals, Rep. John Cooksey -- and was reportedly incensed that the White House had gotten involved with the race.

A spokeswoman for the governor said his decision was prompted in part by erroneous media reports that he would not attend a Terrell fundraiser yesterday that featured Vice President Cheney.

Who Wants to Be a Senator?

Sen. Frank H. Murkowski (R-Alaska) has released his, er, short list of possible replacements in the Senate for when he returns to the state next month to be governor.

The list includes more than two dozen names -- including his daughter, the son of Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens (R), a retired archbishop, NATO commander Gen. Joseph Ralston and enough past and present state legislators to field a baseball team. And, the senator told the Anchorage Daily News, he reserves the right to add more names to the list.

Murkowski was elected governor two weeks ago, but his Senate term does not end until 2004. State law requires him to name his successor, who must also be from his own political party. The senator plans to quit Congress on Dec. 2 -- the same day he will be sworn in as governor. He'll then have to wait five days before formally appointing his replacement.

A spokesman for the lawmaker said he won't be naming the name before then.

Political researcher Brian Faler contributed to this report.