Franken’s lead gets a little bigger

FRANKEN’S LEAD GETS A LITTLE BIGGER…. The good news for former Sen. Norm Coleman (R) is that his lawsuit was able to get some additional ballots counted in Minnesota. The bad news for Coleman is that most of those voters backed Al Franken.

Democrat Al Franken today extended his lead over Republican Norm Coleman in Minnesota’s U.S. Senate election, after the counting of about 350 formerly rejected absentee ballots this morning.

Franken captured 198 of the ballots, while Coleman took 111. The ballots added 87 votes to Franken’s recount lead, enlarging his margin over Coleman to 312.

The result makes it even more likely that, barring an unforeseen circumstance, Franken will prevail in the election lawsuit that Coleman filed in January to contest the Democrat’s 225-vote recount lead. The three-judge panel presiding over the case has not said when it will issue a final decision.

Of course, once the three-judge panel delivers yet another blow to Coleman, the Republicans attorneys have already begun work on an appeal to the Minnesota Supreme Court. From there, with support from the national party, Coleman’s legal team is likely to keep this going through the federal courts, too.

That is, unless the political consequences become untenable. The National Review‘s Ramesh Ponnuru, a leading conservative voice, responded to today’s news by saying, “I think it’s time for [Coleman] to give up this fight.”

I agree, but more importantly, if other conservatives start reaching the same conclusion, it will create an unwelcome political dynamic for Coleman. The Republican has enjoyed considerable patience as he’s dragged this process out, especially since he vowed in November to drop out, in the interests of public healing, if he trailed Franken in the vote totals. In light of this general tolerance, Coleman has felt practically no pressure — from the media, from Democrats, from voters — to face facts and get out of the way. Just the opposite; he’s felt emboldened to keep going.

But that’s why I find Ponnuru’s comment interesting — it suggests even patience among Coleman’s ideological allies is wearing thin.

The media’s coverage is likely to play a big role. Eric Boehlert made the case the other day that Coleman is clearly a “sore loser,” but news outlets have been reluctant to say so. Any chance that might change now?

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

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