- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 30, 2009

UPDATED:

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Republican Norm Coleman conceded to Democrat Al Franken in Minnesota’s contested Senate race on Tuesday, hours after a unanimous state Supreme Court ruled the former “Saturday Night Live” comedian should be certified the winner.

Coleman announced his decision at a news conference in St. Paul, bringing an end to a nearly eight-month recount and court fight over an election decided by only a few hundred votes.

“The Supreme Court has made its decision and I will abide by the results,” Coleman told reporters outside his St. Paul home.

Coleman, appearing relaxed and upbeat, said he had congratulated Franken, was at peace with the decision and had no regrets about the fight, which started almost immediately after the Nov. 4 election.

“Sure I wanted to win,” said Coleman, who called the ruling a surprise. “I thought we had a better case. But the court has spoken.”

He declined to talk about his future plans, brushing aside a question about whether he would run for governor in 2010.

Franken’s victory will give Democrats control over 60 Senate seats, the number needed to overcome any Republican filibusters to health care, energy, or other legislation they or the Obama administration is seeking.

But to exercise that strength, they will need to remain 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 be able to return to the Capitol.

An early test 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 in a situation where 60 votes would be needed to advance one of the administration’s highest priorities.

The White House issued a statement saying President Barack Obama looks “forward to working with Senator-Elect Franken to build a new foundation for growth and prosperity by lowering health care costs and investing in the kind of clean energy jobs and industries that will help America lead in the 21st century.”

According to Betty K. Koed, the assistant Senate historian, the 60-vote majority marks the first time either political party has reached that level since the late 1970s.

Coleman’s appeal hinged largely on an argument that local election officials had inconsistently applied the state’s requirements for absentee voters. He and his lawyers had hoped to bring thousands of disqualified absentee votes into the count, but the state’s high court sided with a lower court and rejected that argument.

Because voting absentee is an option, voters who choose to do so have to comply with the law, the justices wrote. And they said there was no valid reason to apply a more lenient standard in judging absentees, as Coleman wanted, than the law required.

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