Saturday, December 20, 2008

Confidential to Sen. Norm Coleman: You might want to heed the advice of a knowledgeable observer of the Minnesota Senate race


Back on the day after the election, this observer observed:

"If you ask me what I would do, I would step back. I just think the need for the healing process is so important. The possibility of any change of this magnitude in the voting system we have is so remote, but that would be my judgment."

As the recount inches ahead, we've held off publishing any numbers, because they're in such flux, and really not terribly meaningful until the process is completed -- and never mind that when that will happen is becoming increasingly unclear, especially now that the courts have indicated that absentee ballots discarded for no valid reason should be counted. Nevertheless, as the wheels grind forward, an important milestone occurred yesterday: Finally, for the first time, Al Franken pulled ahead of Norm Coleman, by 251 votes.

Observers have been theorizing for some time now, based on the nature and geography of the challenged and uncounted ballots, that it was likely that a fair reckoning would eventually reverse the minuscule (and steadily diminishing) lead Senator Coleman has held since Election Night -- until yesterday.

The Minneapolis Star-Tribune has a team handicapping the ballot challenges, and they're projecting an ultimate 78-vote margin in favor of Franken, still reckoning without the uncounted absentee ballots ones, which seems likely to boost the margin.

As Senate Guru recalls in a comprehensive End of Week Round-Up on the race, back on the day after Election Day, Senator Coleman himself said, "Yesterday the voters spoke. We prevailed," adding, with regard to the possibility of a recount, "It's up to him [Franken] whether such a step is worth the tax dollars it will take to conduct."

And then the senator offered the personal assessment quoted above.

Senate Guru notes that Minnesotans are in jeopardy of having one of their U.S. Senate offices shut down if no senator is seated by January 5, since the Senate makes provision for tending to basic nonvoting tasks like answering constituent calls when a senator resigns or dies, but no provision is made for a vacancy like this. He also notes that "Gov. Tim Pawlenty is looking into the possibility of an interim appointment until the Senate race is decided." It's hard to imagine what authority there might be for such a step, but that doesn't necessarily stop Republicans.

Senate Guru makes one last point, regarding the heating up of investigations into Senator Coleman's finances:
Oh, before we leave Minnesota, some portion of Norm Coleman's contributors are unhappy that their political contributions may be used as a criminal defense fund in the federal investigation of a political benefactor of Coleman's allegedly funneling $75,000 to $100,000 to the Colemans for home renovations:
Nick Alworth, an investment banker from Duluth, disagreed. A registered Republican, Alworth contributed $250 to Coleman's campaign.

"The money that I gave to his campaign was not for a criminal defense," Alworth said. "I don't agree with that."

Not that I expect that many Norm Coleman contributors read this blog; but, if you did contribute money to Coleman's campaign and don't want your political campaign contributions used for a criminal defense fund, call Norm Coleman's headquarters at 651-645-0766 and ask for your contribution back.

On the bright side, at least for Governor Pawlenty: If Senator Coleman does manage to be reseated come January 5, when he has to resign owing to indictment or plea bargain, then of course the governor does get to appoint his replacement.


Senate Guru has posted an update based on a press release from the Franken campaign. He quotes lead recount attorney Marc Elias:
The work left for the state canvassing board to do next week - the re-allocation of withdrawn challenges - is work we have already done in our internal count, because that count has always assumed that all challenges will fail. On Tuesday, I will stand before you with that work completed. Al Franken will have a lead of between 35 and 50 votes. And, at some point not too long after that, Al Franken will stand before you as the Senator-Elect from Minnesota."
The Franken release goes on to explain:
The Franken campaign's internal count before the state canvassing board began its work of reviewing challenges was based on the assumption that all challenges would fail. That internal count yielded a four vote lead for Al Franken.

However, multiple published reports support the fact that Franken challenges were of better quality than Coleman challenges, resulting in a widening of Franken's lead.

Published reports currently indicate a 260 vote lead for Franken, but also suggest uncertainty as to what will happen when withdrawn challenges are re-allocated to the candidate for whom the ballots were originally called.

But because the Franken methodology already assumed those ballots would end up in the tally of the candidate for whom each one was originally called, the internal count can predict the result of that work with certainty: a 35-50 vote lead for Franken.
(Again, this is still without considering the still-to-be-counted rejected absentee ballots.)

Senate Guru also has a response from Coleman campaign spokesman Mark Drake:
This is just more bluster and hot air from a campaign that has been trailing for two years. While we can understand their need to latch onto their temporary lead, the reality is there's a long way to go in this process. We have no doubt that once this recount is fully completed, Senator Coleman will be in the lead and will be reelected to the Senate.
Senate Guru's comment: "Um, I don't see any numbers in their response. Rhetoric aplenty, but no numbers to contest Franken's assertion."

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