For the past week, to the outside world, it may have appeared as if the Norm Coleman-Al Franken U.S. Senate election contest were on hiatus.
The three-judge panel last Monday delivered its significant ruling limiting ballots for review and then told everyone to wait until this Tuesday for yet another count in the five-month-long recount.
But ever since, political rhetoric about the likely results and their fallout have been echoing around the blogosphere like songs of yodelers in the Alps.
After Judges Elizabeth Hayden, Kurt Marben and Denise Reilly ruled that, at most, 400 votes would be examined, pundits, bloggers, political parties and U.S. senators began weighing in. Their comments have been relayed from one website to another, often pushed by political PR people.
Pressure intensifies from partisans on both sides
The so-called “echo chamber” has served simultaneously to intensify pressure on Coleman to drop his case sooner, rather than later, and to cheer him on in appeal efforts that would block Franken from being seated.
Since the March 31 ruling, media members have received (by my count) 10 emails from the Minnesota Republican Party or the Coleman campaign linking to appearances on radio or TV by Coleman himself and to comments from other Republican senators stating their unswerving support for Coleman.
Meanwhile, the Franken campaign and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee responded with a similar number of emails and links to items on Politico, the National Journal, Talking Points Memo, Huffington Post, Washington Post political chats (search for the word “Coleman”) and MinnPost that highlight Coleman’s legal troubles and urge him to give up his fight.
Dueling web petitions have been posted, one from the DSCC urging its supporters to tell Coleman “give it up” and one from the Minnesota GOP urging its supporters to “tell Norm to keep fighting on.”
(Neither site would tell us how many people have participated in the petitioning.)
Why all the chatter, why now?
It’s likely the inevitability of Tuesday’s vote-count outcome; Franken’s lead appears certain to grow above the 225-vote margin he now holds. Last week, Coleman’s lawyer said an appeal is coming, extending the process.
Media blitzes are key part of strategies
But Minnesota GOP communications director Gina Countryman said the goal in emailing links and updated Coleman media appearances to the media is to “increase communication of articles that demonstrate [our] point. Getting them more widely disseminated ensures that your supporters are more likely to see them.”
Others note that Coleman’s media appearances keep the fundraising spigot open to pay for legal fees and any promotion of the appearances serves to market them, too.
Of course, Eric Schultz, who once worked for Franken and is now the chief spokesman for the DSCC in Washington, D.C., has the same dissemination goal in mind. But his principal, Franken, is in the driver’s seat, what with his lead and recognition that his vote-count victory is now all but certain.
“There is a growing national consensus that Coleman ought to give this up,” said Schultz, and, clearly, distributing stories and links from commentators declaring Coleman’s efforts futile or kicking up Coleman’s troubles with the FBI and Nasser Kazeminy connections fuels that consensus.
The question is this: What real effect does this all cacophonous spiral of electronic chatter have on Coleman himself?
He’s certainly been active the past week on talk radio and TV asserting he will carry on the good fight.
Someone told me today of a traditional joke among campaign workers: “If you want to keep your candidate in a good mood, when you drive him home at the end of the day, make sure the route is properly signed.”
That is, take the streets with the most Coleman signs on the lawn.
On the web highway, the analog must be: Get on as many friendly websites as possible so the candidate/contestant doesn’t feel isolated. If you’re on the other side – the Franken side – replace those signs with negative ones.
Durenberger can empathize with ‘pressure’
Minnesota’s former U.S. Sen. Dave Durenberger knows how it feels, but from another era, pre-web and even, to a certain extent, before the worst of partisan negativity took hold.
In 1990, editorialists at the Star Tribune and Pioneer Press called for his resignation and national magazines dived loudly into his ethical controversies.
“Yeah, they affect you,” he told MinnPost today. “You don’t read them closely … The reality is that everybody has a right to come to judgment about you.”
But in 1990, there weren’t as many channels. They were bigger and, in some ways, more powerful. If Time magazine, which came out weekly, said a senator was in trouble, that was a major blow.
Now, the news and the punditry and linkage occur about every two minutes, not every seven days.
“I think today probably you get hardened more quickly,” Durenberger said. “I have to believe that it’s so incessant today you don’t even notice it, at some point you don’t even notice it.”
But the rules of the game have changed, too, he said. When Sen. John Cornyn, chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, says seating Franken will take years and cause “World War III” if it occurs before all Coleman appeals are exhausted, that’s a whole new playing field.
“Those jerks have been doing that to us in Minnesota and in other states for a very long time,” Durenberger said.
He spoke of the decision in 2002 by the White House to have Coleman run for Senate and Tim Pawlenty for governor, even though Pawlenty was eyeing the Senate seat, too.
“I don’t know how the Democratic Party operates because I’m not one of them,” Durenberger said. “But every time we had an opening, somebody like Karl Rove and (George W. Bush campaign manager) Ken Mehlman and the Republican apparatchiks in the White House decide who is going to represent Minnesota. Closed out the party, closed out everybody else. That’s what’s going on now … ‘We will continue to fund you, just to keep the Democrat out of the Senate.’ At some point, somebody has to deal with what’s the will of the people of Minnesota.”
With that sort of Washington power being flexed, Durenberger said, an individual like Coleman, who is not a rich man, “can’t make practical decisions — you can’t make your own decisions.”
Ballot counting in Courtroom 300
One suspects, when the three judge-panel begins opening ballots at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday in Courtroom 300, it will sound as if more echoes are bouncing off the dark-stained oak benches and trim in Courtroom 300.
The Pioneer Press reported today that the number of ballots is now down to 387.
“Franken … Franken … Franken,” will be echoing often as the votes are counted.
By the way, speaking of echoes, do you remember a voter named Donald P. Simmons? We wrote about him last month. He voted by absentee ballot a few weeks before his death. His ballot was in question.
But, according to an exhibit the three-judge panel filed last week, Mr. Simmons’ ballot is in line to be opened. His right has been protected, proving that, indeed, democracy echoes from the most distant places.
Jay Weiner can be reached at jweiner [at] minnpost [dot] com.