FRANKEN GETS ONE STEP CLOSER…. One would like to think that normal political rules still apply, and that yesterday’s court order in Minnesota would point to an end to former Sen. Norm Coleman’s (R) hopes. But this is the interminable Franken-Coleman contest, and the normal political rules seem to have no meaning.

Al Franken, the comedian turned politician, won a potentially decisive court ruling on Tuesday in his bid to replace Norm Coleman, a Minnesota Republican trying to hold on to his Senate seat.

A three-judge panel ruled that only 400 absentee ballots — far fewer than Mr. Coleman had sought — should be examined for possible counting. If the ruling stands, it could be devastating for Mr. Coleman, who trailed his Democratic challenger by 225 votes out of some 2.9 million cast and had hoped that nearly 1,400 absentee ballots might be recounted.

Even if the results put Mr. Coleman further in the hole, as expected, he could fight on, before the Minnesota Supreme Court or perhaps in the federal courts. His lawyer said Mr. Coleman had not given up.

Well, no, of course not. Republicans have been quite candid about their intention to keep this fight going literally for “years,” regardless of the consequences. Remember in November when Norm Coleman said he’d quit, for the good of the people, if the vote totals showed him losing? He doesn’t.

Is there a chance that the 400 absentee ballots could tip the scales in Coleman’s favor? It’s highly unlikely. As Eric Kleefeld explained, “Looking at the math, it’s very bad for Norm Coleman. Even if all 400 ballots were counted and went more to Coleman, it probably wouldn’t produce enough swing to overturn Franken’s 225-vote lead. A more likely guess would be that some percentage are counted, and they break to Franken.”

Coleman’s lead attorney, Ben Ginsberg, said yesterday’s court order left the Republican with “no choice but to appeal that order to Minnesota Supreme Court.” And when that doesn’t work out, it’s safe to assume Ginsberg will have “no choice” but to head to federal district court. And when that fails to give the GOP the results the party wants, Ginsberg will have “no choice” but to seek relief from the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals. Eventually, the U.S. Supreme Court will be asked to weigh in.

The court of public opinion, however, is another matter. Manu Raju noted, “When the case will end could depend on how much patience the Minnesota public has with Coleman.” I think that’s right, but I’d add that the public’s patience will be guided in large part by the media’s tolerance for Coleman’s tactics. Eric Boehlert made the case yesterday that Coleman is clearly a “sore loser,” but news outlets have been reluctant to say so.

If the media were to treat Coleman now the way political reporters treated, say, Al Gore in 2000, Coleman’s willingness to drag this process out indefinitely would almost certainly disappear.

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Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. 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.