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Mike McFeely, Published April 15 2009

McFeely: Coleman should cut his losses

It’s not that the three-judge panel rejected Norm Coleman’s bid to upend Al Franken’s lead in Minnesota’s never-ending U.S. Senate election. That was expected. The problem for Coleman is that judges carefully crafted their opinion to blunt any future appeals.

We’re not saying the fat lady is singing, Norm, but she has certainly cleared her throat and turned on the microphone.

It’s time to get out while the getting is good. Concede the race, preserve whatever goodwill you have left with the people of Minnesota and live to run another day. The governor’s chair now occupied by Tim (He Who Wants To Be President) Pawlenty will be open soon enough, and that’s your best shot at a political future.

The chance of Coleman and his posse following this sound advice is nil, or possibly less. Team Coleman has already said it will appeal the panel’s ruling to the Minnesota Supreme Court – and there are national power-broker Republicans who will urge Coleman to pursue it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, if necessary.

For the bigwigs, it’s all about delaying the inevitable as long as possible. The longer Franken cannot be certified as the winner, the longer there is one fewer Democrat in the Senate.

For Coleman, it should be all about self-preservation. The longer he fights, the more he’s viewed as a sore loser, the less chance he has of winning a statewide election down the road.

It’s a delicate spot for Coleman – if he plays the good soldier and falls on the sword for the Republican Party, he risks political suicide – but his opportunistic instincts should win out. It’s called cutting your losses to fight another day.

The 68-page unanimous ruling handed down by the tri-partisan panel Monday night soundly rebuked Coleman’s argument that the election and aftermath were invalid. The election was “conducted fairly, impartially and accurately,” the decision said.

The bigger issue for Coleman is that the judges clearly looked ahead to the certainty of appeals and apparently tried to blunt Coleman’s arguments before he could make them.

“It’s a signal that they are supremely unimpressed by the Coleman case,” said University of Minnesota political scientist Larry Jacobs.

In other words, it’s put Coleman in a more difficult situation than which he already found himself. Supreme Court appeals might be a waste of time, money and – most importantly to Coleman at this point – good favor among the electorate. The longer he fights and the more he loses, the more the populace gets disgusted and says, “Please go away.”

It’s inevitable Coleman will take his case to the Minnesota Supreme Court. Fair enough. Coleman has every right, and if the shoe were on Franken’s foot he would do the same thing.

Coleman also has every right to appeal all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court if – or is it when? – he loses at the state level. It should not go that far. Coleman should recognize he’s lost by an agonizing 312 votes and allow Franken to be seated. That would show the citizens of Minnesota he answers to them, not the national Republican Party.

If Coleman does that, there’s a chance he’ll be called on to serve again. If not, he’s dooming his political career to the dust bin of sore losers.

Forum columnist Mike McFeely can be heard from 1 to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday on WDAY-AM (970). He can be reached at (701) 241-5580 or mmcfeely@forumcomm.com