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Coleman camp goes on offensive on Day One of Year Two of Minnesota’s Senate race recount

Here was your intrepid correspondent, refreshed from 10 days of Recount Decompression, whistling a happy tune to be privileged to work for a website that takes a humane holiday break.

And here, late this afternoon, your unsuspecting correspondent sat at the increasingly compact Norm Coleman St. Paul Midway-area campaign headquarters — the lease on an adjacent wing ran out at the end of the year.

Suddenly, without warning, out of a new doorway, past a wall plastered with copies of absentee ballots, marched the attorneys for Coleman.

Legal ‘tag team’ takes center of the ring
Entering the ring, ladies and gentlemen, and headed purposefully for the mics and the cameras were Tony Trimble and Fritz Knaak, slugging and poking like a WWE tag-team.

Kool Knaak’s even got the shaved head, for the part. Rumpled Trimble plays the nose-puller role.

Suddenly, I was elbowed back to Recount Reality. Santa seemed light years away. I stopped whistling.

“An election challenge is inevitable,” Knaak said, make no ifs, ands, buts or whereases. “There’s no doubt in my mind, that’s the case.”

He blasted Secretary of State Mark Ritchie’s office for consistently siding with the Franken campaign.

“The process is broken,” Knaak said of the way the previously rejected absentee ballots are being counted.

The Franken side decided to take the rhetorical day off today and declined to comment on the Knaak-Trimble news conference.

Nevertheless, this was Day One of Year Two of the 2008-09 Recount, on which both Knaak and Trimble expressed the brilliant notion that, in this political/legal/chair-over-the-head process, “Each one of these days seems like a century.”

Friday’s century was complete with another Minnesota Supreme Court ruling, a don’t-you-dare conference call by National Republican Senatorial Committee chairman John Cornyn, an email from the Franken campaign directing reporters to a curious analysis at MSNBC and that in-yer-face news conference by Fritz-and-Tony that used blunt force language and crystal clear intentions.

The Supreme Court ruling is asking counties to report what’s been wrong with the absentee ballot counting process. It’s a cockamamie process the Court itself established and best detailed by MinnPost colleague Eric Black earlier today.

Two observations
Amid all the moving parts of today, two things struck me.

One is that these guys are tireless. This is a cage match and it’s all about the last guy standing. A recount is not a tea party, to paraphrase my old friend Mao. Trimble and Knaak don’t seem like the tea-sipping types; Franken’s top dog Marc Elias, either.

It also struck me that this recount has been going on for so long that the same words once uttered by one camp are now coming out of the mouths of the other camp.

Listen to Knaak today.

“It’s obvious they don’t really care about counting every vote,” Knaak said of the Franken side today while calling Franken’s 47-vote lead “artificial and invalid.”

Knaak said the Franken campaign’s motivation “is painfully obvious … Attempting to declare victory on an artificial lead, it’s obvious that they don’t really care about counting every vote. They care about counting only Franken votes … The Al Franken campaign no longer wants every vote counted,” Knaak said. “They want this process to end, and they are fine with disenfranchising voters in order to do so.”

(Of course, it was Coleman and Republican operatives — including Knaak — who declared the good senator the victor a couple of times before the recount even started.)

But listen to Franken lawyer Marc Elias on Dec. 18.

“There is a systematic effort by the Coleman campaign to prevent all the votes from being counted,” Elias said. “They know that … if all the votes are counted, they will lose this election.”

To be fair, I don’t think that qualifies as 21st century political spin. I suspect it’s more like situational rhetoric; when you’re ahead, you talk one way, and when you’re behind, you talk another. And when you’re scrambling to win the thing in the courts you try whatever it takes.

Ultimately, I think, it falls under the category of irony.

Indeed, I couldn’t help myself. I asked Knaak if I was having a recount flashback. First, Franken said Coleman didn’t want the votes counted. Now Coleman’s saying Franken doesn’t want the votes counted.

What gives?

Irony or comedy?
“Do you find it ironic or comical?” I asked Mr. Knaak.

“Certainly not comical,” Knaak said with a genuine twinkle in his eye. “I can understand why someone would find it ironic.”

He went on to say that his side has wanted a detailed process for counting the absentee ballots. (History shows, however, that early on, the Coleman campaign was opposed to counting the improperly rejected ballots until AFTER the recount.) Anyway, now that the Supreme Court has said the votes can be counted, Coleman’s side wants the order followed as best as it can be … and to get the maximum votes for their guy.

The Supreme Court ruling today seeks more information about how absentee ballots were evaluated. The court ordered seven counties and the Franken side to submit more details by Saturday morning. But the court also put out an open invitation to “any other county auditor or election official” in the state who wants to weigh in on the strength or weakness of the process.

Not surprisingly, the Coleman camp quickly sent a note to the state’s elections officials encouraging them to tell the Supreme Court about any flaws in the process.

Back to the comical irony.

“I would say we really haven’t changed our position,” Knaak said, “but I can understand why it would seem that way.”

It also turns out, that some of the rejected ballots that Coleman’s team wants re-examined seem to be in areas where Coleman might have more votes than Franken. That’s what the MSNBC analysis shows.

So here’s what’s on tap as the weekend approaches. Legal documents will be filed by 9 a.m. Saturday. At the same time, Ritchie’s office will begin counting 953 absentee ballots sent by the 87 counties. Perhaps, the Supreme Court will issue a new order Saturday or Sunday. That could shake up the count big time.

Monday at 2:30 p.m., the canvassing board is set to meet.

As for the legal contest … at the earliest that could come Tuesday afternoon. But, probably, folks will wait a bit to get their arguments in order.

One thing we know is that a three-judge Ramsey County panel will be the first stop for any post-recount contest.

Knaak was asked if he knew who the three judges would be.

He laughed. Such a decision — or even his concern for it — will come “centuries from now,” he said.

Translation: That’s a couple of days away.

Jay Weiner can be reached at jweiner [at] minnpost [dot] com.

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