iOS app Android app More

Norm Coleman Concedes: "We Have A New United States Senator"

BRIAN BAKST   06/30/09 10:21 PM ET   AP

Coleman

ST. PAUL, Minn. — Al Franken ascended Tuesday from the ranks of former "Saturday Night Live" comedians to an even more exclusive club, outlasting Republican Norm Coleman in an eight-month recount and courtroom saga to win a seat in the U.S. Senate.

Franken's victory gives Democrats control of 60 seats in the Senate _ the critical number needed to overcome Republican filibusters. When Franken is seated, which could come as early as next week, his party will have a majority not reached on either side of the aisle in some three decades.

"When you win an election this close, you know not one bit of effort went to waste," Franken said. "The way I see it, I'm not going to Washington to be the 60th Democratic senator, I'm going to Washington to be the second senator from Minnesota."

Coleman conceded the election hours after a unanimous state Supreme Court ruled that Franken _ who moved into politics with books poking fun at conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh _ should be certified the winner. In doing so, he pulled the plug on a bitter election that was ultimately decided by 312 votes out of nearly 2.9 million cast.

"Franni and I are so thrilled that we can finally celebrate this victory," Franken told reporters outside his downtown Minneapolis town house, where he was accompanied by his wife. He added: "I can't wait to get started."

Coleman could have carried his fight into federal court, but it was unlikely to overturn the state Supreme Court's decision. The prospect created months of intrigue over whether Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty would sign an election certificate for Franken if Coleman was still pursuing appeals, a possibility that became moot with Coleman's concession. Pawlenty signed the certificate Tuesday evening.

"The Supreme Court has made its decision and I will abide by the results," Coleman said outside his St. Paul home. Appearing relaxed and upbeat, Coleman said he had congratulated Franken, was at peace with the decision and had no regrets about the fight.

"Sure I wanted to win," said Coleman, who declined to talk about his future and brushed aside a question about whether he would run for governor in 2010. "I thought we had a better case. But the court has spoken."

After Coleman ended election night ahead by several hundred votes, he called on Franken to concede. The Democrat refused, and the thin margin triggered an automatic recount that ultimately put him ahead by 225 votes. Coleman challenged those results in January, but a review by a three-judge panel expanded Franken's lead to 312 votes by the time it ended in April.

Coleman appealed to the state's high court later that month, arguing election officials across Minnesota were inconsistent with rules on absentee ballots, unfairly robbing thousands of people of their votes. But the state's high court soundly rejected that reasoning, voting 5-0 that there was no reason to apply a more lenient standard in judging absentees, as Coleman wanted, than the law required.

"I think what you had was 12 judges look at this through the canvassing process, through the recount and throughout the trial, and all agreeing unanimously that I won more votes than anybody else in the election," Franken said. "I think that is conclusive, and I think that this has been as thorough, as painstaking, as transparent as possible."

Franken, 58, has come a long way from the goofy 1980s "SNL" skits where he mocked politicians, portrayed the self-affirming Stuart Smalley and pranced around in little more than a Speedo. His career evolved in the 1990s with books harpooning Limbaugh and he later gained a liberal following as a radio show host on the "Air America" network.

Minnesota has put an entertainer in office before. In 1998, former pro wrestler Jesse Ventura captured the governor's office with an outsider third-party run. Ventura served one term, then resumed private life without seeking re-election.

Franken declared his candidacy more than two years ago, and he and Coleman combined to spend $50 million in pursuit of the seat. That's more than double what was spent in 2002, when Coleman won the seat that had been held by the late Paul Wellstone.

For Democrats to exercise their newfound strength with Franken in office, they will need to be as united in support of a bill as Republicans are in opposition, regardless of regional differences, ideology, or political self-interest.

The situation is further complicated by the illness of two senior Democrats who have been absent from the Capitol for weeks. West Virginia Sen. Robert C. Byrd was recently released from a hospital after undergoing treatment for a staph infection, and Massachusetts Sen. Edward M. Kennedy is battling brain cancer. It is not known when, or whether, either will return to the Capitol.

An early test of the Democrats could come next month, when health care legislation reaches the Senate floor. Democrats have been seeking agreement on a bipartisan plan with a handful of Republicans. But if those talks falter, they and the White House may end up needing 60 votes to advance one of the Obama administration's highest priorities.

In the months since Election Day, both Franken and Coleman kept low profiles. After Coleman's term expired in January, he took a job as a consultant and strategic adviser to the Republican Jewish Coalition, a group that advocates in Washington on Jewish issues.

Franken has taken some steps to ensure a quick transition, appointing a staff in waiting that includes communications staffers, a chief of staff and a state director. He said Tuesday he had been told his assignments would include the Judiciary Committee, a role that would put him immediately in the thick of confirmation hearings over Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor.

Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar said Franken told her Tuesday he's "ready to get started immediately." The Democrat said Franken is expected to immediately dive into the health care debate.

"This victory was hard earned for Al Franken and his family," she said. "Franni Franken had a suitcase packed, ready to go to Washington at a moment's notice, like you do when you're waiting to have a baby. She had a toothbrush, clothes, all of that, ready to go."

___

Associated Press Special Correspondent David Espo and AP Writer Henry C. Jackson contributed to this report from Washington. AP Writer Patrick Condon contributed from Minneapolis.

FOLLOW HUFFPOST POLITICS

Filed by Rachel Weiner  |