The Senate race in Minnesota seems no closer to resolution than it did on election night. With Al Franken clinging to a 225 vote lead and Norm Coleman dealt a tough setback in state court last week, some of the highest ranking officials in the GOP are urging the St. Paul Republican to draw out all remaining options.
In light of this, it is worth noting just how far the Republican Party's position has evolved from the last big poli-legal recount drama: the 2000 presidential race in Florida.
Among the biggest cheerleaders for Coleman's increasingly bleak cause has been Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has urged the former Senator to pursue his case further in the courts despite the recent setback.
"The court's decision in Minnesota [ruling against the examination of thousands of contested ballots] leaves no other choice but to continue the process to ensure that every legal vote is counted," he said late last week.
Slightly more than eight years ago, however, the longtime Kentucky Republican was calling on Al Gore to be a "statesman" and "give it up" a mere three weeks into his recount. "Enough is enough," McConnell said. "Where do the interests of the country begin and the interests of the campaign end?"
Then the head of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, McConnell sent an email to supporters, threatening to target Democratic Senators if they did not "denounce Gore's blatant attempt to steal this election." The most hyperbolic assertion came in early January, when he said that Al Gore was becoming "the Tonya Harding of presidential politics." He will, McConnell added, "contest this until he runs out of lawyers, and there are lots of lawyers down in Florida." Five days later, he told reporters that "there's an important responsibility for the loser to lose with grace," referring to Gore.
McConnell, of course, was not alone. A whole host of Republican officials who warned against a drawn-out recount in 2000 now want the process expanded in Minnesota. Jon Kyl, for one, has sharply warned Senate Democrats to not seat Al Franken, holding up the possibility of courts ruling in Coleman's favor.
Eight years ago, however, the Arizona Republican scoffed at the notion that Al Gore could benefit politically through legal avenues, referring to such a possibility as "backing into the presidency."
"I think that the Seminole County case is particularly troublesome because, of course, that's a case in which votes would be thrown away rather than counted, and that's been contrary to Al Gore's position up to now," said the Senator in December 2000. "Yet he could theoretically benefit from that. I think were that the way that he backed into the presidency, it would not bode well for his presidency."
Of course, 2000 and 2008 differ in many respects. A smooth presidential transition takes logical precedence over the presence of a 100th Senator. The legal arguments between the two are also different, though it is telling that (1) Coleman is relying on Ben Ginsburg, the same lawyer used by George W. Bush in 2000, and (2) McConnell declared that Republicans would employ a Bush v. Gore style defense to appeal on Coleman's behalf.
From a strictly numerical standpoint, however, the cases are remarkably similar. Minnesota was decided by a margin of 537 votes -- or 0.0009 percent of the state's electorate -- Florida by 225 votes, or 0.0007 percent of the state's electorate.
Considering the closeness of both these elections, the urge to squeak out victory can certainly compel politicans to take contradictory positions. Sometimes the change comes within matter of months.
"If you asked me what I would do, I would step back," Coleman said of a recount, the night of the election, when he was ahead. "I just think the healing process is so important. The possibility of any change of this magnitude in the voting system we have would be so remote -- that would be my judgment. Mr. Franken will decide what Mr. Franken will do."
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