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Scott Wente, Published February 07 2009

Coleman, Franken both getting ready for Senate seat

Eventual winner will have late start

ST. PAUL – Al Franken says he is getting in-the-know, but Norm Coleman says he already knows.

Each U.S. Senate candidate says he is poised to be senator, but Franken and Coleman are preparing differently as they await an outcome in their Senate election, now three months overdue. Their attorneys are engaged in a St. Paul trial to determine which disputed ballots should be counted.

Franken, who declared victory when the statewide recount showed he won by 225 votes, said he talks frequently with Senate Democrats but also has requested committee assignments and plans to interview potential staff.

“I would think that the people of Minnesota would want me to prepare for when I’m seated, or in the event that I’m seated,” Franken said in an interview Friday. “It’s a rational thing to do. It’s a responsible thing to do.”

Franken conducted a series of media interviews Friday after granting few with Minnesota reporters since the Nov. 4 election.

Coleman has been more visible in recent weeks, attending the election trial almost daily. The Republican said he confers with GOP senators frequently, but unlike Franken, who talks with advisers about domestic and international affairs, Coleman said he does not need that.

“I think there’s a difference here,” he said. “I’ve been in the Senate for six years.”

Coleman said he is juggling his time among attending the trial, entering its third week on Monday, talking with Republicans on Capitol Hill and consulting for the Republican Jewish Coalition, a temporary job he took last month.

The trial concluded its 10th day Friday, with attorneys for Coleman and Franken questioning an Anoka County election official about absentee ballots that were rejected in the election. The campaigns also argued whether ballots not tallied in the recount that were found by counties in recent days should be included in the tally.

The three judges hearing the case denied a request by a group of seven voters to have their rejected absentee ballots considered in the trial. The court said they did not meet a filing deadline.

Coleman’s campaign is calling county election officials to testify in the trial in an attempt to prove counties used different criteria to judge whether absentee ballots should be counted. He wants the three-judge panel to review up to 4,800 ballots for possible counting.

Fresh off a Florida vacation, Franken said he has confidence in his legal team and gets daily trial updates.

“I don’t feel that I have to be there,” he said.

Franken, who attended the presidential inauguration last month, plans two more trips to Washington in the coming weeks. He described one trip as a “briefing” on issues before Congress.

Franken said he will spend the second trip interviewing chief of staff prospects and meeting with Democratic officials “to talk about the structure of the office.” The work is only preparatory, he said.

“Obviously I don’t have a budget, so I can’t hire staff,” he said.

Coleman, too, has no Senate budget. His Senate office closed in recent days after staff members spent a few weeks wrapping up constituent issues. His term ended Jan. 3.

“The office is closed. It’s done,” he said. “Everything’s emptied out.”

Even having served a six-year term, Coleman said he will have to start from scratch to open an office and hire staff if he wins the prolonged election. He said he will return to Washington periodically during the election trial.

It will be a bigger struggle for Franken if he wins, Coleman said.

“You’ve got to question how long it’s going to take to get somebody up and running, up to speed, bringing on a staff,” the ex-senator said.

The new Congress convened Jan. 6 and Franken said he requested at least six committee assignments, including agriculture, health and labor, energy, military veterans and American Indian affairs.

“I probably requested more than I’m going to get,” he said. “In fact, I know I did.”

As the election trial continues, Franken separately has asked the Supreme Court to order that he be given an election certificate signed by the governor and secretary of state.

Franken would not say whether he would continue pushing to be seated in the Senate if the Supreme Court decides against ordering an election certificate before the lawsuit is resolved.

“It will be pretty much out of my control,” he said. “I’m really taking this one step at a time and, frankly, let’s wait for the Supreme Court to make its ruling.”


Wente works for Forum Communications Co., which owns The Forum. He can be reached at (651) 290-0707 or swente@forumcomm.com