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Associated Press/Photo by Craig Lassig (file)

Senate race settled

Politics | Following a court decision, Norm Coleman concedes the months-long Minnesota senate race to Al Franken

Comedian Al Franken will soon be Sen. Al Franken.

And with Tuesday's victory by Franken in the months-long race for a Minnesota Senate seat, Senate Democrats will soon have an impenetrable supermajority of 60 votes.

Soon after the Minnesota Supreme Court rejected his legal challenge, incumbent Republican Norm Coleman conceded the race to Franken, ending a battle that began last November. It ends with a 312-vote victory out of 2.9 million ballots cast.

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"I am so excited to finally be able to get to work for the people of Minnesota," Franken said Tuesday afternoon. "We have a lot of work to do in Washington, but that's why I signed up for the job in the first place."

Appearing before reporters outside his St. Paul home, Coleman said he would abide by the unanimous state Supreme Court decision that Franken, a former Saturday Night Live writer and cast member, should be certified the winner.

"I have congratulated Al Franken," said Coleman. "We've reached that point that it's now time to come together. The election of 2008 is over."

That end came 239 days after the election and fills what had become the third longest vacancy in U.S. Senate history. Minnesota now has its full allotment of two senators. But the repercussions of Franken's victory extend far beyond the North Star State.

The eight-month recount and ensuing court fight ended with an election decided by only a few hundred votes. But that narrow margin now gives Democrats enough Senate votes to overcome any Republican filibuster. The path to energy, health care, immigration, and a new Supreme Court justice has become a lot easier for President Barack Obama.

The decision couldn't come at a better moment for the president as Congress gears up for a busy legislative summer, and Obama wasted no time in making this point when congratulating Franken for his victory: "I look 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."

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and other Democrats spent Tuesday afternoon rejoicing in the development that gives Democrats a 60-40 Senate majority for the first time since Jimmy Carter in late 1970s.

Republicans, however, remained silent. They are expected to focus on a theme that Democrats can no longer blame Republicans for obstructing legislation and that Democrats now have full ownership of ambitious agendas that are leading to an expanded role for federal government. A contingent of moderate Senate Democrats such as Sen. Evan Bayh from Indiana, Tom Carper of Delaware, and Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas now take a more prominent role during upcoming debates.

The only Republican speaking was Republican Party of Minnesota Chairman-elect Tony Sutton, who said the court ruling "wrongly disenfranchised thousands of Minnesotans who deserve to have their votes counted."

Franken brushed off talks about being the coveted 60th vote for Democrats, saying he is just the second senator for Minnesota. But he is expected to be a reliable liberal vote for Obama. Franken will be sworn in and seated next week after the Senate returns from its Fourth of July holiday.

Edward Lee Pitts
Edward Lee Pitts

Lee teaches journalism at Dordt College in Sioux Center, Iowa, and is the associate dean of the World Journalism Institute.


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