Franken wins protracted Minn. Senate race
His victory over Norm Coleman gives Democrats 60 Senate seats
Franken gives Dems control of Senate
July 1: Almost eight months after Election Day, the Minnesota Supreme Court declares Democrat Al Franken winner of one of the state’s U.S. Senate seats, giving Democrats the ability to overcome filibusters. NBC’s Pete Williams and Chuck Todd repor
updated 2 hours, 36 minutes ago
ST. PAUL, Minn. - Al Franken refused his rival's calls for an election night concession last November, choosing instead to begin vote counting and courtroom haggling that stretched almost eight months and ultimately landed him a seat in the U.S. Senate.
Franken's victory over Republican Norm Coleman gives Democrats 60 Senate seats, the critical number needed to overcome Republican filibusters. When Franken is seated, which could come as early as next week, his party will have a majority not reached on either side of the aisle in some three decades.
Coleman conceded the election hours after a unanimous state Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that Franken — who moved into politics with books poking fun at conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh — should be certified the winner. In doing so, Coleman pulled the plug on a bitter election that was decided by 312 votes out of almost 2.9 million cast.
"When you win an election this close, you know not one bit of effort went to waste," Franken told reporters outside his downtown Minneapolis town house, accompanied by his wife. "The way I see it, I'm not going to Washington to be the 60th Democratic senator, I'm going to Washington to be the second senator from Minnesota."
Coleman could have carried his fight into federal court, but it was unlikely to overturn the state Supreme Court's decision.
'The court has spoken'
"Sure I wanted to win. I thought we had a better case. But the court has spoken," Coleman said outside his St. Paul home. Appearing relaxed and upbeat, Coleman said he congratulated Franken and had no regrets about the fight. He brushed aside a question about whether he would run for governor in 2010.
Franken declared his candidacy more than two years ago, and he and Coleman combined to spend $50 million pursuing the seat. That's more than double what was spent in 2002, when Coleman won the seat that had been held by the late Paul Wellstone.
Court rules for Franken in Senate fight
June 30: The Minnesota Supreme Court has ordered that the Democrat be certified as the winner.
Both Franken and Coleman kept low profiles in the months since Election Day, though Franken has taken some steps to ensure a quick transition by appointing a staff in waiting that includes communications staffers, a chief of staff and a state director.
"We've been doing a lot. I've been going back and forth to Washington," Franken said Tuesday. "We've been using this time, I think, pretty productively."
Franken and Sotomayor
Franken said he had been told his assignments would include the Judiciary Committee, a role that would put him immediately in the thick of confirmation hearings over Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor.
He told Minnesota Public Radio on Wednesday that he wants to ask Sotomayor about her views on campaign finance reform.
When Coleman ended election night ahead by several hundred votes, he called on Franken to concede. The Democrat refused, and the thin margin triggered an automatic recount that put Franken ahead by 225 votes. Coleman challenged those results, but a review by a three-judge panel expanded Franken's lead to 312 votes.
Coleman appealed to the state's high court, arguing election officials across Minnesota were inconsistent with rules on absentee ballots, unfairly robbing thousands of people of their votes. But the state's high court voted 5-0 that there was no reason to apply a more lenient standard in judging absentees, as Coleman wanted, than the law required.
"I think what you had was 12 judges look at this through the canvassing process, through the recount and throughout the trial, and all agreeing unanimously that I won more votes than anybody else in the election," Franken said.
Franken, 58, has come a long way from the goofy 1980s "SNL" skits where he mocked politicians, portrayed the self-affirming Stuart Smalley and pranced around in little more than a Speedo. His career evolved in the 1990s with books harpooning Limbaugh and he later gained a liberal following as a radio show host on the "Air America" network.
Minnesota has put an entertainer in office before. In 1998, former pro wrestler Jesse Ventura captured the governor's office with an outsider third-party run. He served one term, then resumed private life without seeking re-election.