Tags: coleman | recount | GOP

Democrats May Flip Coleman Win If He Tops Tally

Monday, 01 Dec 2008 07:14 PM

By David A. Patten

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Senate Democrats could reject GOP Sen. Norm Coleman’s re-election if Minnesota officials declare him the winner over rival Al Franken, sources tell Newsmax.

“I think the real issue is what the Senate will do,” Wall Street Journal writer John Fund told Newsmax.

Echoing that sentiment is Washington University political scientist Steven Smith, who told Minnesota Public Radio, “Ultimately, the Senate has complete authority to determine who was elected."

Coleman is clinging to a razor-thin lead of about 270 votes, with a Friday deadline looming for completion of a recount that state law requires because the results were so close.

The stakes are high: Depending on the results of the Chambliss-Martin runoff election Tuesday in Georgia, a Franken victory could give President-elect Barack Obama the 60-vote margin he would need to push his agenda through Congress.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid raised the specter of Senate intervention on Franken’s behalf Nov. 26, when he strongly protested Minnesota State Canvassing Board rulings that he said “give cause for great concern.”

“As the process moves forward, Minnesota authorities must ensure that no voter is disenfranchised,” Reid warned. “A citizen’s right to have his or her vote counted is fundamental in our democracy.”

Reid’s statement drew a sharp reaction from the Coleman camp, in which Campaign Manager Cullen Sheehan called Reid’s remarks “stunning.”

“This says that Franken is fully prepared and armed to take this matter to the United States Senate and that the Senate will be receptive — even if Franken fails to succeed in winning the recount,” Sheehan said.

Fund offered Newsmax a similar interpretation: “I think Harry Reid is signaling that perhaps the Senate will play hardball in January” if Franken isn’t declared the winner.

The recount is considered unlikely to change the election’s outcome, and the thousands of challenges to individual ballots that both campaigns filed are not expected to be decisive.

It appears likely that Franken soon will have just two options to stave off defeat: a lawsuit to force Minnesota officials to count absentee ballots that had been rejected as invalid and a U.S. Senate investigation into whether votes in the election were counted properly.

“The bottom line here: Franken is playing Hail Mary passes,” said Fund, author of “Stealing Elections: How Voter Fraud Threatens Our Democracy.” “But he’s got to play them all. Otherwise, he will lose his best and perhaps only chance to become a U.S. senator.”

[Editor’s Note: Get John Fund's book, “Stealing Elections: How Voter Fraud Threatens Our Democracy” for FREE. Go here now.]

Franken attorney Marc Elias has suggested that the Franken campaign could rely on U.S. Senate intervention.

“Whether it is at the county level, before the state canvassing board, before the courts of Minnesota or before the United States Senate, we do not know,” Elias recently told reporters. “But we remain confident that, one way or another, all lawful votes will be counted in this election.”

This would not be the first time the Senate refused to validate the results of a cliffhanger election.

In 1974, a recount showed that Louis Wyman, a GOP congressman from New Hampshire, had defeated Democrat John Durkin, winning election to the U.S. Senate by just two votes.

Democratic senators, however, launched an investigation into whether all ballots had been counted properly. They tried on six occasions to award the seat to Durkin but couldn’t muster the votes.

The deadlock dragged on for seven months, until the two candidates finally agreed to a new election. Democrat Durkin won the runoff by nearly 30,000 votes.

Whether Democrats and the Obama administration would want to incite the intense partisan rancor that would follow such a contentious process is hard to say.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., is urging senators to stay out of the contest. “The recount process in Minnesota is being handled by Minnesotans, not D.C. politicians," McConnell said Nov. 27. "And while neither side will agree with every twist and turn or every decision, I would hope that Washington partisans would refrain from injecting themselves into what is, by design, a nonpartisan process."

Although the temptation to weaken the GOP further by shutting Coleman out of the Senate would be strong, the political cost to Democrats could be high.

“Old hands in the Senate will tell newer members it wasn’t worth it,” Larry J. Sabato of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics told Newsmax. “President Obama, I would suggest, will also conclude it’s not worth it. An internal battle will cause hard partisan feelings to develop quickly. Obama doesn’t want that.”

Sabato also believes such a political intervention would be unnecessary. Democrats usually could pick up two votes from GOP moderates to end Republican filibusters anyway, he said.

Having fewer than 100 legislators in the Senate for the first few months of his presidency could work to Obama’s advantage. Three-fifths of senators must vote to shut off debate, meaning that only 59 votes would be required if only 99 members were seated.

Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty could step in and make an interim Senate appointment, however, to ensure proper representation for his state.

The deadline for completing the recount is Friday. On Dec. 16, the canvassing board will begin ruling on the validity of individual ballots that have been challenged.

The two campaigns have challenged about 5,600 ballots, but thousands of those will be dropped or dismissed as frivolous. Election experts say it is very unlikely that they could change the election’s outcome.

“I think that’s just not going to happen,” Joe Mansky, elections manager for Minnesota’s Ramsey County, recently told the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

If the canvassing board determines that Coleman is the winner, Franken’s team probably would file a lawsuit to force the counting of absentee ballots already rejected as invalid. And the Senate would then represent Franken’s last defense.

Of course, there’s always a chance Democratic leaders will opt to avoid a showdown.

“Who knows, the Democrats may blink,” Fund said. “They may decide they don’t want to start this way.”

[Editor’s Note: Get John Fund's book, “Stealing Elections: How Voter Fraud Threatens Our Democracy” for FREE. Go here now.]

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