- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Former Sen. Norm Coleman, Minnesota Republican, who narrowly lost his bid for a second term in a bitter eight-month recount battle with Democrat Al Franken, may be poised for an improbable comeback after a new survey showed that half of all Republicans polled would support him if he enters the gubernatorial race next year.

Mr. Coleman has largely stayed out of the limelight since the state’s Supreme Court unanimously ruled in June that Mr. Franken, a one-time “Saturday Night Live” comedian, had defeated him by a razor-thin 312 votes out of 2.9 million cast in the 2008 election.

State Republican officials said he has been going through a period of “decompression” since he conceded. However, they also say the former lawmaker remains popular with Republicans and with voters generally and is in a strong position if he moves quickly in the race. He has said he won’t make his decision until next year.

“Norm came through the vote-recount process really quite well. He remains very strong with Republican voters, and his reputation is still positive in the state as a whole,” said former Rep. Vin Weber of Minnesota, a longtime party strategist and a Washington lobbyist.

“The problem Norm faces is that the party’s endorsing convention will be held in April, earlier than before. If Norm doesn’t decide until March or April, it will be too late,” Mr. Weber said.

Republicans in the state say the Republican convention endorsement is rarely overturned in the September party primary, and if Mr. Coleman were to get in too late to win in the convention, he would have a harder time overcoming its choice in a statewide party ballot contest.

“Minnesota Republicans have a tradition of supporting the convention’s endorsed candidate in the primary, and it would be tough even for Norm Coleman to buck that tradition,” Mr. Weber said.

A Rasmussen poll reported last week that Mr. Coleman led a large field of relatively little-known Republican hopefuls by 50 percent, with the closest contender, state Rep. Marty Seifert, drawing just 11 percent in the survey. Twenty-six percent said they were not sure whom they would support.

No clear favorite has emerged on the Democratic side, either. Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak and former Sen. Mark Dayton drew 30 percent each, with the rest of the field with single-digit support and 20 percent undecided.

With the field unsettled in both parties and no incumbent on the ballot, the Cook Political Report rates the Minnesota contest one of 12 gubernatorial “tossup” races around the country a year ahead of the November 2010 vote.

Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who is considering a run for president in 2012, announced in June that he would not seek a third term. State Republican leaders think they have a good shot at keeping the Statehouse in Republican hands at a time when polls show increasing voter disapproval of the Obama administration’s handling of the economy and a growing unemployment rate.

Some state party officials are telling Mr. Coleman that if he wants to be governor, he had better announce his plans sooner rather than later.

“If he is interested, he’d definitely be a force in the Republican nomination process and in the general election. He needs to decide what he wants to do. If he’s going to run, he needs to start by the end of the year,” said Minnesota Republican Party Chairman Tony Sutton.

“Minnesota, despite its reputation of going Democratic in presidential elections, is not as Democratic as some think. The Democrats have not elected a governor in this state since 1986,” Mr. Sutton said.

Mr. Sutton said Mr. Coleman emerged from last year’s lengthy vote-count battle and numerous legal appeals with his popularity undiminished in the Republican Party and possibly strengthened as a result.

“I don’t think there are negative feelings toward him. Among Republicans, there is this feeling that he is some sort of a martyr after having the election stolen from him. He’s decompressing. The vote count and court battle went on and on; it was brutal and gut-wrenching. He’s taking time off and involved in starting a think tank on public policy issues,” Mr. Sutton said.

Mr. Coleman, a visiting fellow at Harvard’s Institute of Politics, has said he is in no hurry to decide about his future political plans.

“I’m not going to make that decision for a little bit,” he told the Harvard Crimson, the student newspaper, last week.

“I thought it was important to step away from the political process. It’s really nice waking up in the morning and reading the paper and realizing that nobody is trying to kill you politically today. I’m a public servant at heart, but I haven’t made a final decision on whether being the governor is the best way to do that.”

But while Mr. Coleman ponders his options, Minnesota Democrats want him to know right now that they are still angry over the long, drawn-out recount fight that delayed Mr. Franken’s seating in the Senate for months.

“That [Rasmussen] poll indicates that Norm Coleman could win one race — the GOP primary contest,” said Emily DeRose, spokeswoman for the Democratic Governors Association.

“Minnesotans were extremely frustrated with his selfishness hanging on to power in the aftermath of the Senate race, and he has a number of unresolved ethical issues. He’s a deeply flawed candidate,” she added.

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