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Associated Press, Published July 01 2009

Franken's victory gives Democrats more power in Senate

Al Franken ascended Tuesday from the ranks of former “Saturday Night Live” comedians to U.S. senator after an eight-month recount and courtroom saga to win a seat in the U.S. Senate.

Franken’s victory over Republican Norm Coleman gives Democrats control of 60 seats in the Senate – the critical number needed to overcome Republican filibusters. When Franken is seated, which could come as early as next week, his party will have a majority not reached on either side of the aisle in some three decades.

“When you win an election this close, you know not one bit of effort went to waste,” Franken said. “The way I see it, I’m not going to Washington to be the 60th Democratic senator, I’m going to Washington to be the second senator from Minnesota.”

Coleman conceded the election hours after a unanimous state Supreme Court ruled that Franken should be certified the winner. In doing so, he pulled the plug on a bitter election that was ultimately decided by 312 votes out of nearly 2.9 million cast.

“Sure I wanted to win,” said Coleman, who declined to talk about his future and brushed aside a question about whether he would run for governor in 2010. “I thought we had a better case. But the court has spoken.”

After Coleman ended election night ahead by several hundred votes, he called on Franken to concede. The Democrat refused, and the thin margin triggered an automatic recount that ultimately put him ahead by 225 votes. Coleman challenged those results in January, but a review by a three-judge panel expanded Franken’s lead to 312 votes by the time it ended in April.

For Democrats to exercise their newfound strength with Franken in office, they will need to be as united in support of a bill as Republicans are in opposition, regardless of regional differences, ideology, or political self-interest.

The situation is further complicated by the illness of two senior Democrats who have been absent from the Capitol for weeks. West Virginia Sen. Robert C. Byrd was recently released from a hospital after undergoing treatment for a staph infection, and Massachusetts Sen. Edward M. Kennedy is battling brain cancer. It is not known when, or whether, either will return to the Capitol.

An early test of the Democrats could come next month, when health care legislation reaches the Senate floor. Democrats have been seeking agreement on a bipartisan plan with a handful of Republicans. But if those talks falter, they and the White House may end up needing 60 votes to advance one of the Obama administration’s highest priorities.

Franken has taken some steps to ensure a quick transition, appointing a staff in waiting that includes communications staffers, a chief of staff and a state director. He said Tuesday he had been told his assignments would include the Judiciary Committee, a role that would put him immediately in the thick of confirmation hearings over Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor.