Norm Coleman’s pre-recount lead declined to 206 Monday, a 15-vote drop, as counties wrapped up canvasses. Some precinct auditing continues this week, then the real recount starts a week from Wednesday. Changes have been remarkably small, Secretary of State Mark Ritchie tells the PiPress. He also discusses “recount addiction” with WCCO’s Frank Vascellaro, but I’m pretty sure they’re not talking about me, right?
As the vote totals shift: The Strib says Franken netted 28 votes in Hennepin County since Election Day (the PiPress says 27); 246 in northern Minnesota’s Lake County (a place no one has made a stink about); 100 in Pine and St. Louis counties and 34 in Anoka County. The DFLer gained two in a five-precinct Ramsey County audit, the Uptake adds. The Coleman campaign again claimed victory, though the recount will apparently proceed.
Coleman’s forces accused Franken of “stuffing the ballot box” after his attorney requested Hennepin County consider 461 rejected — but possibly valid — absentee votes. The county effectively deferred the request until the official recount begins (KSTP somehow doesn’t note this); still, the denial was a P.R. blow in Franken’s efforts to stay on the relative high road. Coleman’s lawyers say the Democrats didn’t give them advance notice, KARE’s Scott Goldberg reports. MPR’s Tom Scheck says “several” county clerks were contacted about absentee ballots.
Recount data: Using 2006 audit results, the Strib’s Bob von Sternberg says 1,600 ballots could change, less than the 6,000 estimated elsewhere. (This doesn’t include disputes such as Hennepin County’s absentees.) AP’s Patrick Congdon has a good overview of localities’ varying ballot security procedures. MPR’s Scheck says Coleman volunteers waited in their car outside a closed county building over the weekend.
Gov. Pawlenty imbibed the heady vapors of election-judge fraud, saying of Minneapolis’ 32 “found” absentee ballots, “We have somebody driving around with 30 or 40 ballots in their car. How does that happen?” The PiPress writes that the anecdote “isn’t entirely accurate,” noting the ballots were returned to a secure location. But there’s even less to this oft-repeated tale than meets the eye; see Braublog later today.
A new detail in the second DonorGate suit: Nasser Kazeminy originally wanted to pay Norm Coleman cash, the PiPress’ Dave Orrick writes. A Kazeminy-controlled company’s minority shareholders made the claim in an Oct. 10 letter. Later, two suits contend that a stymied Kazeminy used Laurie Coleman’s employer as a conduit. Coleman’s camp vehemently denies the allegations, so does Kazeminy, and no further evidence has surfaced. Politico, which has the document, broke the direct-payment story. Interestingly, the Strib has nothing.
The PiPress’ Rachel Stassen-Berger says Coleman may also have to drop his bid to head the National Republican Senatorial Committee. The D.C. publication Hotline notes the recount may extend beyond the GOP Senate Caucus’s vote on the post, but I can’t help wondering if DonorGate is a factor.
Meanwhile, Minnesota Independent’s Karl Bremer reports that Coleman wrote two pardon letters for a man linked to the Tom Petters fraud scandal. In a search warrant, the feds claim Frank Vennes Jr. earned $28 million in the Tom Petters scandal, though he has not been charged. “I assure you that Mr. Vennes’ moral and ethical standards more than justify your consideration of his pardon application,” Coleman wrote in 2004. Vennes was a direct and indirect Coleman donor.
The PiPress’ Dennis Lien says Pawlenty “upstaged” a DFL/administration task force by announcing a plan to extend JOBZ tax incentives to green businesses. DFLers say Pawlenty’s $90 million, six-year plan isn’t as comprehensive or fast-acting as the one they’re laboring over with the guv’s own agency heads. The Strib’s Pat Lopez writes that Pawlenty’s plan includes “$60 million for insurance companies that put money into businesses with fewer than 100 employees, with at least half of them green businesses.” Huh?
Illuminating business-section tale about Delta trying to renegotiate $245 million in Northwest bond debt. The PiPress’ John Welbes notes that if the state forces repayment (because NWA’s headquarters is leaving), the money goes to bondholders — not the state. Delta wants no change, to preserve cash flow. The airline holds out the carrot that a revised deal can protect the hub and non-HQ employment levels, the Strib’s Liz Fedor writes. But if the HQ codicil was meaningless, can we trust them about the rest?
Kmart will stop selling realistic toy guns at its Minneapolis store, WCCO’s Caroline Lowe reports. Police wrote the store manager a letter after an alleged juvie gangbanger was caught with the faux weapon outside a city school. Bizarrely, the chain won’t pull the guns out of other metro stores, even though some host cities have ordinances against the lookalike pistols.
MPR’s Dan Gunderson has an interesting story on hospitals and bad debt. With medical costs up, insurance coverage down, and the economy tanking, you’d assume the unpaid-bill percentage would be rising. Not yet, Gunderson notes; revenue and unpaid bills are going up in lockstep. Still, one hospital association president says bad debt is up 20 percent, stressing already tight bottom lines. One reason writeoffs aren’t rising faster is that patients are stretching out payments, but that lifeline is closer to snapping.