Franken camp claims lead in Minnesota

FRANKEN CAMP CLAIMS LEAD IN MINNESOTA…. It’s a tiny margin, which is bound to change, but for the first time, Al Franken’s campaign in Minnesota believes it has edged ahead.

Al Franken’s campaign announced on Wednesday that, for the first time since the Minnesota recount began, the Democrat has actually pulled ahead of Republican Sen. Norm Coleman.

Speaking on a conference call with reporters, Franken’s chief counsel Marc Elias said the campaign’s own internal count showed them up 22 votes, a jump from the 13 vote deficit that they faced on Tuesday.

“We have approximately 138,000 ballots left to count,” said Elias. “94.3 percent of the state has now been counted… Obviously that number is going to change, but we are pleased thus far with how things are going.”

There are, however, several caveats to keep in mind. The Franken campaign’s tally differs from the official secretary of state count, which shows Coleman ahead by 303 votes. As Eric Kleefeld explained, “The Franken camp’s methodology involves taking down the opinions of the local election officials regarding the challenged ballots, and assuming that all the challenges will result in those local officials being upheld by the state canvassing board. As such, we are dependent on the Franken camp being complete and accurate in their homework, and also on their underlying assumption proving to be correct.”

There are also about 138,000 ballots that have not yet been reviewed as part of the recount, and your guess is as good as mine as to what twists and turns might come of those votes.

The official recount is scheduled to end on Friday, but neither camp expects the process to end anytime soon. The Minnesota Canvassing Board still has to decide what to do with nearly 6,000 contested ballots, and lawsuits in state courts are probably unavoidable.

And what happens if the race is unresolved when Congress convenes in January? Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty will have to appoint a temporary senator to serve until someone wins the Coleman/Franken contest.

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Steve Benen

Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.