And in the beginning, there was tough lawyer chatter and subdued senatorial vows.
“This process isn’t at the end — it is now just at the beginning,” said Norm Coleman’s feisty attorney Tony Trimble, speaking to a full house of journalists at the State Office Building and signaling a potential rumble in the courtrooms of Ramsey County as early as Tuesday, and beyond. “We will contest the results of the Canvassing Board.”
Barely an hour later, in the chill of a winter’s late afternoon, Al Franken — we can’t officially call him Sen. Franken just yet — had a different take on beginnings and endings.
“The history of our country will be forever altered by what we do together to address the challenges we face together. So, with tremendous gratitude for the victory we have won, I’m ready to get to work.”
It’s amazing how perspectives diverge when one senator is coming and another is going — all on the margin of 225 out of 2,920,704 votes. Less than one one-hundredth of 1 percentage point.
On the head of that pin, the beginnings for Franken and Coleman today are vastly different.
Even though the State Canvassing Board took all of 19 minutes to declare that the recount was over and that Franken had more votes, that pronouncement doesn’t formally, officially, actually make Franken, a St. Louis Park native, Minnesota’s junior senator.
Trimble and colleague Fritz Knaak unequivocally stated that they would be filing a lawsuit to challenge the Canvassing Board’s actions “within the next 24 hours.”
They lashed out at the Canvassing Board and at Secretary of State Mark Ritchie’s office and detailed the outline of their grievances: missing ballots, duplicate ballots, 654 allegedly inconsistently handled uncounted absentee ballots.
Here’s their full statement.
Their client, Sen. Coleman, whose term in office expired Saturday, didn’t make himself available today, but his campaign did announce that he would make a statement Tuesday afternoon.
Political freight train on the move?
One wonders: What can Coleman say that would stop the political freight train that left the station today?
“This action, the very first action of the 111th Congress and the new Democrat leadership that campaigned on a theme of bipartisanship, will result in an historic political power play done at the behest of Al Franken,” the email said. “Minnesotans have the right to elect their own elected officials, just like every other state in the country, and this stunning move by Al Franken and Harry Reid strips Minnesotans of that right.”
But all the attention turned to Franken. A spokesperson declined comment on whether Franken would be heading to Washington in time for today’s swearing-in of new members of Congress.
Knaak acknowledged a legal contest can be expensive, and Franken’s street-fighting lawyer Marc Elias exuded confidence that any Coleman court challenge would land up on the scrap heap of legal history.
Elias also couldn’t help himself. He called Coleman “former Senator Coleman.” It was clear he’d been practicing the phrase.
As for Coleman resting much of his challenge on the issue of uncounted absentee ballots, Elias said, “The Coleman campaign is late to this party.”
Indeed, it was Franken’s campaign that sought way back in November to include all 12,000 rejected absentee ballots during the statewide recount. It was Coleman’s campaign that took the matter to the Minnesota Supreme Court first to stop and then to create a system for counting … a system Coleman’s side is now squawking about.
If the Coleman side carries out its threat to move into the courts Tuesday — as is its right and, for supporters, perhaps its duty — it will have to fight public perceptions.
For one, there was the praise of Ritchie and his staff by the other four members of the Canvassing Board, including Minnesota Supreme Court Chief Justice Eric Magnuson, a pal of Gov. Tim Pawlenty.
Ramsey County District Judge Edward Cleary used the words “courage … grace under pressure” when describing Ritchie.
For two, there is the reality of headlines like those posted at StarTribune.com Monday night and sure to be followed in print from Anoka to Zumbrota Tuesday: “Franken’s on top; Coleman to sue.”
Or the Pioneer Press online headline: “Franken Declares Victory.”
Majority of voters backed someone other than ‘winner’
For majorities of the voting public that actually rejected each candidate — they each won 42 percent with Dean Barkley grabbing the decisive 16 percent — there won’t be much chanting at the ramparts for someone taking this whole mess to court and dragging it into spring training.
And then there’s the talking point that Elias, Franken’s surrogate, asserted, one that is sure to find an echo chamber among Democrats in Minnesota and in Washington: If a protracted challenge — with an unlikely chance of victory — ensues, the state of Minnesota may not have a senator for while.
“Former Senator Coleman has to make a decision and it is a profound decision,” said Elias, a master of high-brow trash talk. “He needs to look into his heart to make [it], whether or not he wants to be the roadblock to the state moving forward. Or play the role of spoiler or sore loser.”
Meanwhile, Coleman’s office was shut down in Washington and closed in St. Paul. But mostly Coleman must deal with Franken’s five-minute-long performance this afternoon on the sidewalk outside his 10th Street home.
For Franken, 57, it was clearly a beginning, the start of a new tone, a new him.
He stood quite somberly before the microphones that were planted at the steps to his front door, his wife, Franni, standing next to him. He appeared as senatorial as a former comedian, talk-radio host and author can look … barely 87 minutes after apparently winning Coleman’s seat.
It was one of those scenes out of every televised victory (and/or resignation) CNN moment. He made a statement but wouldn’t answer questions. The serious politician, in the dark overcoat, powder blue shirt and blue-striped tie — sans hat — his spouse at his elbow, the icy, visible breath exiting his mouth with each syllable on a fine wintry Minnesota day.
If anyone wondered if Franken could be reflective, that was put to rest today.
“I … know this was a hard-fought victory,” he said, “and that I didn’t win the support of every Minnesotan. I’m going to have to earn it by being a senator who fights for every Minnesotan, whether you voted for me or not. And I want every Minnesotan to hear me say: I work for you now.”
He reached out to Coleman. It wasn’t a full, frontal, let’s-hug-Norm moment, but it was as generous as could be expected from a slugger like Franken after such a nasty campaign and the prospect of a looming court challenge.
“I know this is not an easy day for Norm Coleman and his family, and I know that because Franni and I and the kids have had plenty of time over the past two months to contemplate the possibility that this election would turn out differently,” Franken said.
“Norm has worked hard for this state and this country, and I hope to ask for his help to ensure that Minnesotans can continue to count on receiving excellent constituent services from their two senators without interruption.”
Al Franken wasn’t telling jokes. Fact is, Al Franken was performing his first act as U.S. senator. It was his beginning, to be sure.
Perhaps Trimble and Knaak were working hard on the beginning of their next phase tonight, too.
But lawyers, affidavits and precedents aside, Franken got the upper hand today. He was the one in the overcoat with the puffs of frost billowing from his mouth, looking into the cameras, and saying firmly, “I am proud and humbled to stand before you as the next senator from Minnesota.”
That’s a genie that’s tough for any lawyer to put back in a bottle.
Jay Weiner can be reached at jweiner [at] minnpost [dot] com.