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Voters have second thoughts about first picks

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A Coleman representative watches the recount
A representative from the Coleman Campaign watches as ballots are being counted in St. Paul, MN November 20, 2008.
MPR Photo/Caroline Yang

North Branch voter Judy Kepes  has a personal connection to DFLer Al Franken.

"I've known him for a really long time," Kepes   said. "I'm from New York and my friends all worked for Saturday Night Live."

A ballot challenged by the Franken campaign
A ballot challenged by the Franken Campaign during the recount process for Ramsey County in St. Paul, MN November 2008.
MPR Photo/Caroline Yang

But Kepes didn't vote for Franken, even though she tends to support Democrats. For one thing, she's always found his sense of humor mean-spirited.

"He tends to also view the world as them and us, and I don't see that as a reasonable way to proceed," Kepes said.

Kepes registered her misgivings about Franken with a vote for Independence Party candidate Dean Barkley. She never imagined the Senate race would be so close, though some people around her did.

"My husband kept saying, 'You know what's going to happen? It's going to come down to one vote and it's going to be your vote, and I'm never going to let you forget it,'" Kepes said.

Well, it's not down to one vote at this point, but Republican Norm Coleman's lead is tiny and Kepes wishes she hadn't used her vote to make a statement. She even sent Franken's campaign $50 dollars to help with the recount battle.

"I hate Norm Coleman, I really do," she said. "I hate him. So if it's a choice between him and Al Franken, I want Al Franken."

A challenged ballot
An example of a challenged ballot, where "Bachmen" was handwritten in St. Paul, Minn., November 20, 2008.
MPR Photo/Caroline Yang

Kepes is one of several Barkley voters who told Minnesota Public Radio News they'd like to take their ballots back. Peter Zidek is another one. Normally, he isn't in the habit of voting for Democrats or Republicans.

"No, I vote neither," Zidek said. "I usually vote Libertarian."

Zidek never would have supported Franken and he voted for Barkley as a protest vote against Coleman.

"The main reason is that he voted for the bailout," Zidek said.

But if he had it to do over, Zidek would have gone for Coleman anyway. He didn't think the race would be this close, and he also didn't realize Democrats would be so close to a 60-vote, fillibuster-proof majority in the U.S. Senate.

"That means they've got no-holds barred to put any kind of collectivist, socialist, hyper-liberal policy through," Zidek said.

Democrats will have at least 58 senators in their caucus next year. But they could make it to 60 if Franken wins and they score an upset victory in a runoff election in Georgia next month. 

It makes sense that some Barkley supporters would have second thoughts. The Franken/Coleman race is unbelievably close and their candidate is out of the running.

But Barkley voters aren't the only ones with regrets. Loren Bergstedt voted for Coleman.

"I just thought he was the better candidate," Bergstedt said.

Bergstedt calls himself a traditional conservative. 

"I consider myself a Republican who usually votes for independents or Democrats," he said.

And he thought Coleman grew a lot during his time in the Senate, became less partisan and more pragmatic. But now, Bergstedt wishes he'd given his vote to Dean Barkley.

"I was very disappointed when I heard Norm Coleman's acceptence speech, if you could call it that," Bergstedt  said. 

In his speech, Norm Coleman said:

"I recognize that because of my margin of victory, Mr. Franken has a right to pursue an official review of the election results. It is up to him whether such a step is worth the tax dollars it will take to conduct."

Bergstedt said such a confident declaration of victory might have been justified if Coleman led by, say 15,000 votes, but not a few hundred.

"It didn't show that he was being particularly gracious at all," Bergstedt  said. "I think his attitude in that just really soured me. I was very disgusted."

David Abrams wishes he'd voted for Barkley, too. Abrams cast an absentee ballot for Franken well before election day, but he started to regret it almost immediately.

"Over the course of those several weeks between the time I voted and the election day came around, things were so remarkably negative, I found Dean Barkley kind of staying above the fray," Abrams said. "And that impressed me."

Abrams is rooting for Franken in the recount, but he still wishes he could take his vote back on principle.

"Negative is negative," he said. "We can't reward people for negative campaigns."

Most of the 130 Franken, Coleman and Barkley voters Minnesota Public Radio has heard from stand by their candidates, for now. But then again, the recount battle has only just begun.