Coleman Not Giving Up Yet

Reid: ‘He Should Concede’

Posted January 21, 2009 at 6:51pm

The two men at the center of the still-unresolved 2008 Minnesota Senate race made the rounds Wednesday on Capitol Hill, assessing their prospects for being seated and arguing their cases to their respective party leaders and the national media.

Democrat Al Franken is ahead of former Republican Sen. Norm Coleman by 225 votes after a multimillion-dollar statewide recount, which Coleman will begin to formally contest in court next week. If Franken is ultimately seated, Democrats would hold 59 seats in the chamber, just one vote shy of a filibuster-proof margin.

In an interview at the Ronald Reagan Republican Center on Wednesday afternoon, a noticeably relaxed Coleman expressed confidence in the outcome of his upcoming recount trial.

“We believe that when the ballots that have been double-counted are taken out and the absentee ballots are counted in a uniform manner, that the lead that Franken has is artificial and we’ll be back on top,” Coleman said.

In the trial scheduled to begin Monday, Coleman’s campaign will contest “double-counted votes” and uniform counting of wrongfully rejected absentee ballots, among other matters.

Coleman counted back from his 225-vote deficit in the interview, arguing that without double-counted votes and counting every remaining wrongfully rejected absentee ballot — many of which he argued are from Republican areas — the lead that he had on election night would hold.

“Reports of my defeat are greatly exaggerated and very much premature,” said Coleman, paraphrasing author Mark Twain’s famous words.

Coleman also made the rounds on Capitol Hill, where he visited his former Republican Senate colleagues at their weekly luncheon and took questions from reporters. Coleman also met privately with Republican leaders.

Franken, meanwhile, met with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) late Wednesday afternoon. The two Democrats said they discussed the upcoming legislative agenda and committee assignments, and Franken updated Reid on his recount prospects.

“President [Barack] Obama [on Tuesday] said that we’ve got to get to work and to address the problems that we have. So that’s what we’re doing here today,” Franken said. “We’re talking about the stimulus package, the calendar here in the Senate, so that when I do get here, I can hit the ground running.”

But even before their scheduled meeting, Reid expressed confidence that Franken would be seated soon.

“There’s no way that Coleman can win this,” Reid said after the Wednesday luncheon. “The numbers aren’t there. He should concede.”

An optimistic Coleman said he was willing to wait to see how the trial unfolds in the coming weeks, even if it means Minnesota residents would be without a second Senator for at least a month.

“I’m hopeful that I’ll be on top,” he said. “If I’m not and Al Franken wins, then Al Franken wins. I’ll accept that. If he has more votes, more validly counted votes, than I do and he wins, then I’ll accept that. But let’s see how we deal with these two pretty fundamental issues.”

The recount debacle is expected to last for at least one more month, and Franken’s campaign has filed a motion with the courts to force state leaders to certify his election in the meantime so that Reid could seat him. Reid could attempt to seat Franken anyway, although he is unlikely to do so without an election certificate.

“Without an election certificate, I don’t see anybody being seated. So if Reid were to try to push something through, I think it would fly in the face of Senate history, not just long-term, ancient tradition, but recent precedent,” Coleman said, citing the example of recently seated Sen. Roland Burris (D-Ill.). “It was made explicitly clear: You don’t seat folks in the Senate without a signed election certificate. I’m not worried about that.”

In order to earn a living in the meantime, Coleman said he would be consulting for policy-oriented organizations in Washington, D.C., on a contractual basis. He said he has a mortgage and family, including two of his children in college.

“I’ll be doing some consulting,” he said. “I’m not part of the millionaire’s club in the Senate, so I’m going to be working with some organizations while this thing is pending.”

Coleman would not release any more information on what he hopes is his temporary employment solution but said more details would be forthcoming. Franken is independently wealthy and, according to his aides, can afford to live without new income for the foreseeable future.

In the meantime, Coleman said Reid has allowed him and his staff to return, pack up casework and transfer files to Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.).

“We are packing up,” Coleman said. “My term ended Jan. 2. And now we’re packing up and trying to work out a process whereby we can unpack as quickly as possible. That’s a whole other issue. When this thing is over, and hopefully in the next month to six weeks, if I’m there and already have an operation, my folks will already be gone.”

Coleman said he and Reid only reached the agreement last week after “a lot of starts and stops.”

“The bottom line is that I believe we have until Feb. 4 to pack up the office and transfer the cases,” Coleman said.

Coleman said Senate leaders also are provisionally holding his committee assignments, including the second-ranking spots on the Foreign Relations, and Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs committees.

Jessica Brady and David M. Drucker contributed to this report.