Why Norm Coleman continues to fight

Norm Coleman visits with his attorneys
Former Republican Sen. Norm Coleman says he thinks he can win the senate race, even though it seems almost certain the three judge panel will reject his election contest.
AP Photo/Jim Mone, Pool

Norm Coleman declined to talk Minnesota Public Radio News about his legal or political strategy. But he told Fox News Radio he's convinced he can win the Senate race if the votes are fairly counted.

His legal team claims that the court's order will prevent that from happening.

The Senate race was supposed to be over nearly five months ago. An appeal to the state's highest court after the three-judge panel issues a final ruling will drag it out by at least several more weeks.

Carleton College Political Science Professor Steven Schier said Coleman is pushing so hard because if he loses he's not in a good position to run again for statewide office.

"For Norm Coleman he's got a present opportunity, and it's still a serious opportunity to become a U.S. Senator as opposed to potential opportunity somewhere in the future that are indefinite," Schier said. "I mean, I think that's how he's looking at it, and I'm almost certain he's going to appeal is as far as he can."

As much as Coleman may see continued litigation as his best chance at getting back into office, national party leaders are also motivated to continue the fight. They know the longer they have 58 instead of 59 Democrats in the Senate, the better positioned they are to fight off proposals from the White House and the Democratic majority in the House of Representatives.

"Politics certainly plays a role here," said Jennifer Duffy of the Cook Political Report.

Duffy said, had Coleman not contested the recount results in the first days of January, the Obama administration would have started off with a stronger hand.

"You can look at things like the stimulus and the need to deal with some Republican amendments because they didn't have 60 votes," she said.

"You can talk about things like the omnibus spending bill that was passed a couple of weeks ago that, again, they had to hear Republicans out a little bit because they didn't have 60 votes. And there are a couple of things coming down the pike which might require 60 votes."

Duffy said one of those things is a bill that would make it easier for workers to form unions.

Political analyst Steven Smith of Washington University in St. Louis, said national Republican leaders and faithful supporters around the country have been willing to bankroll Coleman's fight in part because they know even having just one fewer Democrat in the senate significantly helps them.

"Many Republicans are hoping merely just to keep Franken out of the senate," Smith said.

What is unclear is just how much Coleman's battle is hurting his personal political future in Minnesota. At what point will voters -- even Coleman supporters -- feel Coleman has gone too far? Has he already passed that point?

A Rasmussen poll released in early March showed many more Minnesotans think Franken won the election than think Coleman did: 47 to 35 percent.

Smith said if Coleman continues fighting too long and loses, he could end up hard-pressed to convince voters to elect him to another office.

"My guess is that he's going to end up looking like a spoiled loser if he pushes this too far," Smith said. "It's noteworthy that he's not doing the speaking, it's mainly his lawyers. That's not accidental, I'm sure. They're trying to generate interest in the case but they don't want Sen. Coleman to be too closely associated with the complaining."

If Coleman follows through with an appeal to the Minnesota Supreme Court he must file an intent to appeal within 10 days of the three-judge panel's final ruling. After that, he would have an additional 15 days to file documents stating his case, after which the court would likely hear arguments. Coleman's lawyers have also raised the possibility of going to federal court.

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