Democrats Send Mixed Messages on Coleman

Posted April 6, 2009 at 1:55pm

Updated: 4:53 p.m.

While Senate Democratic leaders last week appeared surprisingly conciliatory toward former Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.), the party’s campaign arm was exhibiting no such goodwill toward the man who continues to pursue a time-consuming legal challenge to last November’s election results.

Coleman led Democrat Al Franken by 700 votes the day after the Nov. 4 election, but found himself down to his challenger by 225 votes after subsequent recounts and canvasses of the vote. Coleman’s ensuing legal challenges have prevented comedian Franken from being seated as Minnesota’s junior Senator.

Last week, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Senate Democratic Conference Vice Chairman Charles Schumer (N.Y.) and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) acknowledged Coleman’s right to challenge the election results in state court as provided for under Minnesota law. But the DSCC, noting that Coleman appears to be the subject of interest in an FBI investigation, argued that the Republican’s legal case was illegitimate.

“If Norm Coleman is going to continue his far-etched legal appeal, the least he can do is answer if the FBI is investigating him,— DSCC spokesman Eric Schultz said. “It is a yes or no question that Minnesotans deserve an answer to.—

Democratic leaders in the Senate have been unable to install Franken because he has not been officially certified as the winner of the race. Also, Senate Republicans have threatened a filibuster if Democratic leaders try to seat Franken before Coleman has exhausted his legal challenges.

At 41 seats, the Senate Republican Conference holds the minimum number of votes required to sustain a filibuster. While Democratic leaders initially threatened to challenge the filibuster, they have since cooled their heels.

But the DSCC is doing its best to keep the pressure on Coleman and the Senate GOP.

“The DSCC is doing what it needs to do, ratcheting up the temperature to make it as uncomfortable as possible for Norm to keep his legal crusade, even though there is nobody of sound mind and body who thinks he has a shot at getting his seat back,— said one Washington-based Democratic operative.

Despite some legal setbacks, Coleman believes he has a solid case and remains committed to taking his appeal all the way to the Minnesota Supreme Court — and possibly federal court.

Minnesota’s election law is expansive and allows for Coleman’s current state court challenge. Republican Senate leaders share Coleman’s optimism that his case might ultimately bare fruit and result in him earning a second Senate term.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee declined to comment for this story. However, both the NRSC and Senate Republican leaders were effusive last week in their support for their one-time colleague.

Coleman’s first term expired at the end of the 110th Congress. The now-former Senator has declined to comment on the FBI investigation, other than to deny any wrongdoing.

“The smears and desperate attacks launched against Sen. Coleman by Washington Democrats won’t change the fact that Minnesota voters deserve to know who really won on election night,— said a Republican operative based in D.C.