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Henry C. Jackson, Published March 10 2009

Franken sees 'light at end of tunnel' in Minnesota Senate race

WASHINGTON (AP) – Democrat Al Franken said Tuesday he sees “a light at the end of the tunnel” and expects to be seated as Minnesota’s next senator.

The former “Saturday Night Live” comic and liberal satirist traveled to Washington for meetings, including the Senate Democratic Caucus lunch. Emerging from the weekly gathering, Franken told reporters he had been asked to give an update to the caucus on his protracted battle with Republican Norm Coleman.

“What I did today was fill them in,” Franken said. “There’s pretty much a light at the end of the tunnel so I kind of told them what was going to happen.”

More than four months after Election Day and two months after a statewide recount, Franken is clinging to a 225-vote lead out of about 2.9 million votes cast in the state. Coleman’s legal team has sought to overturn Franken’s margin in court, arguing that different standards were used to count absentee votes in different county of the state.

Coleman, meanwhile, was in a St. Paul courtroom on Tuesday, thumbing through binders of court exhibits as Franken witnesses testify at a special court hearing. Coleman has been a regular presence in court since his term expired on Jan. 3.

Cullen Sheehan, Coleman’s campaign manager, ridiculed Franken’s comments on Tuesday.

“Al Franken doesn’t know the difference between a light in the tunnel and the freight train that is coming right at him,” Sheehan said. “The freight train is coming, and it’s Sen. Norm Coleman being re-elected to the United States Senate.”

Both Democrats and Republicans view the Minnesota Senate seat as vital. Democrats would like Franken’s vote on key issues to avoid a GOP filibuster, and Republicans would like more room to maneuver against Democratic legislation.

Franken has traveled to Washington regularly, meeting with current and former staff. He calls himself senator-elect and has engaged in listening tours around Minnesota.

Franken said he did not foresee a scenario where he was seated before a potential Coleman appeal to the Minnesota Supreme Court.

Walking out with Franken, Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said Franken’s report made him optimistic that Democrats would eventually add another member to their caucus.

“They’re being fair, that’s why it’s taking a while,” Schumer said. “Minnesotans are very, very fair in this, and they’re making sure that every challenge that Norm Coleman has made is given its due. But ... the case is moving very well in our direction.”

Associated Press Writer Brian Bakst contributed to this story from St. Paul

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