- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 22, 2009

Minnesota Republican Sen. Norm Coleman on Wednesday revealed that former President George W. Bush, who´s familiar with recounts, had contacted him to commiserate about his ongoing battle with Democratic challenger Al Franken.

And Mr. Coleman said Minnesotans, not Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, will determine the outcome of the last undecided congressional race of the 2008 election, which Mr. Franken leads by 225 votes.

“It’s been surreal,” Mr. Coleman said. “I tell people I’m a Jewish kid who has come to understand the concept of purgatory.”

He acknowledged that the extended contest has taken a toll on constituents, staffers and the candidate himself but that he would overcome the “artificial lead” amassed by Mr. Franken, a former comedian on TV’s “Saturday Night Live” who is making his first run for elective office.

Mr. Reid “can huff and puff all he wants, but this vote will be decided by the people and the courts of the state of Minnesota,” Mr. Coleman said Wednesday during a visit to Washington.

Mr. Reid has been outspoken in trying to end the dispute over the Minnesota seat, as a Franken win would leave Senate Democrats just two votes shy of a filibuster-proof majority.

“There’s no way Coleman can win this. He should concede,” Mr. Reid told reporters Wednesday.

Mr. Reid also told reporters that Senate Democrats are moving toward seating Mr. Franken. “We’re going to try to seat Al Franken,” he said. “There’s not a question in anyone’s mind, an assertion by anyone, that there’s been any fraud or wrongdoing in this election.”

But Mr. Coleman, a former mayor of St. Paul, Minn., who is seeking a second term in the Senate, said that, aside from Mr. Reid and New York Sen. Charles E. Schumer, head of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, most of his colleagues from both parties seem ready to let the Minnesota legal process play out. He cited recent public comments by Sen. Tim Johnson, South Dakota Democrat, that Congress should remain neutral in the fight.

“I really hope my Democratic colleagues do not make this into a partisan issue. I hope and pray this doesn’t break down along party lines,” Mr. Coleman said.

The Minnesota vote has seesawed as the two campaigns maneuver for legal advantage in the battle over the recount.

Mr. Coleman originally enjoyed a tiny edge when the preliminary vote count was announced, but ended up trailing Mr. Franken by 225 votes - out of some 2.9 million votes cast - after a statewide recount concluded on Jan. 5. The Republican is arguing that the recount incorrectly double-counted some ballots, that some absentee ballots were wrongly rejected and there were inconsistent standards across the state for dealing with missing or questionable votes.

Lawyers for both candidates went before a three-judge state panel Tuesday to consider Mr. Franken’s request that the review be stopped and he be declared the winner. The Franken campaign also opened a new legal front by claiming Minnesota law allows him to be seated in the Senate while Mr. Coleman’s legal challenge proceeds.

If Mr. Coleman’s suit is allowed to proceed, the case is set to go to trial on Jan. 26.

Both candidates were in Washington this week, briefing their party colleagues on the status of the race and raising funds for the legal appeals. Mr. Franken met with Mr. Reid on Wednesday afternoon after attending the Obama inauguration Tuesday with tickets supplied by Senate Democrats.

After the Reid-Franken meeting, Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican and chairman of the Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee, said: “With every press conference and photo-op, it becomes more apparent why Harry Reid and Al Franken want to circumvent Minnesota law and avoid a fair and legal review of the ballots - they’re worried about what the outcome might be.

“The fact is that if Al Franken truly believes he won this election, he should respect the laws of his state and allow this legal review to be completed,” Mr. Cornyn said.

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