Observers say Coleman's next move comes with costs

Senator Coleman holds a press conference
Political observers say that Republican Norm Coleman must carefully weigh the decision to launch an election contest in the U.S. Senate race.
Cory Ryan/Getty Images

The state Canvassing Board certified recount results that favored Democrat Al Franken by 225 votes over Republican Norm Coleman. But an election conclusion remains on hold, pending a Coleman legal challenge.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty says the recount has been unfortunately complex, and the Republican governor also sees a court challenge as a viable option to clarify the result.

"We need to make sure that we have a result that reflects integrity, reflects accuracy and reflects a fairness that people can say, 'Yeah, it was a close call, was a tough fight, it took longer than we wanted, but in the end we can all look each other in the eye and say it was a fair process,'" said Pawlenty.

Some political observers wonder if litigation is the best option for Coleman.

"Close elections and legal disputes taint the winner, and make people suspicious of whether there even was a fair winner."

University of Minnesota political science professor Larry Jacobs says Coleman might want to run again for statewide office, and he must give careful consideration to the political ramifications of a legal fight.

Jacobs says he thinks Coleman would want to avoid comparisons to Al Gore, who he says came across to some voters as a sore loser after the 2000 presidential election.

"It is entirely appropriate for Vice President Gore and Senator Coleman to pursue those legal angles. There's no doubt about that. But in the court of public opinion, there's not as much tolerance for that. And Senator Coleman could well end up tarnishing his standing here in Minnesota," said Jacobs.

In addition to the political cost, Jacobs says Coleman might also be weighing the financial cost. Jacobs says a lengthy court fight will get expensive.

"Between both campaigns, they've raised and probably gone through already about $4 million," said Jacobs. "Can Senator Coleman continue to raise money like that, as he's fallen behind? It's a big question that no doubt will be part of his decision."

But that cost pales in comparison to the amount both candidates spent to run for the office. Before the recount, Coleman had spent about $22 million and Franken $20 million.

The Senate is set to resume its work in Washington, D.C., with only one Minnesota senator, Amy Klobuchar, on the job. Coleman's term as senator expired Saturday.

Even when a winner is finally seated, some Minnesotans are wondering how effective that senator can be.

State Sen. Geoff Michel, R-Edina, a supporter of Coleman, says neither candidate will serve with a clear mandate.

"Close elections and legal disputes, I think, taint the winner and make people suspicious of whether there even was a fair winner. And that's not good for Minnesota," said Michel. "In either outcome right now, you have a 42-percent-supported senator from Minnesota, and that's not good."

Michel says he thinks Gov. Pawlenty should appoint a senator to serve until all the legal challenges are resolved, something Pawlenty has said he probably won't do.

In the future, Michel says Minnesota should consider switching to a runoff election system to decide close contests.

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