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Recount update: Norm’s margin rises to 344

Norm Coleman’s recount margin keeps growing in the late innings, but on Monday, he didn’t need challenge games to make it happen.

Coleman now has a 344-vote lead over Al Franken, according to the 8 p.m. update from the Secretary of State.

But unlike last week, when Coleman’s daily recount gain was less than his challenged-ballot advantage, his Monday lead grew by 52 votes even though he only challenged 35 more ballots.

In recent days, the pattern was different: Coleman would pick up, say, 66 votes because he challenged 77 more. That’s fueled Franken accusations that the Republicans were inflating their contested ballot count to give them a deceiving p.r. advantage before December’s State Canvass Board hearings.

Coleman remains the challenge champion; overall, he’s contested 3,067 ballots to Franken’s 2,876, a 191-challenge gap. But that only explains slightly more than half the Republican’s 344-vote lead.

Franken has to hope his campaign’s rhetoric about better-quality challenges is true, and that valid but uncounted absentees get added to the pile.

This afternoon, the Franken campaign pegged the “real” gap at 73 votes, but with 91.13 percent of the votes recounted, his time is running out in this phase.

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