Who would have thought that something bizarre would happen when Al Franken ran for public office?
In a press conference just now, former Sen. Norm Coleman (R-MN) has conceded defeat to the Democratic comedian Franken in the 2008 Senate race -- nearly eight months after Election Day, and six months after the seat went vacant when Coleman's single term had expired. Coleman said that further litigation would damage the state, and congratulated Sen.-elect Franken on his victory. He said his future plans in politics "are a subject for another day."
Coleman also said he would no longer contest the much-litigated matter of which previously-rejected absentee ballots should and should not be let into the count, for which both campaigns had picked out lists to argue over. "I'm not questioning what's counted and what's not counted. The Supreme Court has decided," he said. "We are a nation of laws and not men and women. Now that the court has spoken, it's time to move on and not look back."
Coleman said his phone call with Franken was civil. "It couldn't have been any closer and he understands, what his family has gone through, and what me and my family have gone through," said Coleman. "It was a very personal discussion. I congratulated him and wished him the best, and he responded in kind."
It's been a long and strange journey from there to here. Coleman had initially been ahead of the long-time Democratic activist and dirty comedian right after the election, seemingly winning by around 700 votes the day after the election. But then the state went through the standard process of having the counties all proofread their spreadsheets -- and it turned out he only led by 215.
Then the recount commenced, with ballots from malfunctioning machines or with markings that were too light to be scanned cutting into the lead. Then after the State Canvassing Board adjudicated the ballots that had been challenged by the campaigns for voter intent or illegal voter signatures (and most of these challenges from both sides were completely frivolous, designed to manipulate the totals), it was now Franken who was ahead by 49 votes. Then after extensive litigation on absentee ballot envelopes that had been rejected due to clerical errors by local officials, Franken was then up by 225 votes.
Then Coleman filed a lawsuit to contest the results, contending that a) ballots were let in for Franken that shouldn't have been, b) ballots for Coleman that should have been allowed were not, and c) damaged absentee ballots that had been duplicated ended up being counted twice, favoring Franken. After months and months of litigation, the three-member trial court rejected all of these claims -- and some more previously-rejected ballots that were put in only expanded Franken's victory to 312 votes.
And keep in mind that Coleman's Senate term expired in early January. This seat has been vacant for six months, due to two things. First, a quirk of Minnesota law prevents the certification of a winner in a contested race until the state litigation is over. Second, Senate Republicans declared that they would block any attempts to seat Franken without the full documentation -- indeed, they leveraged Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's (D-NV) attempts to block Sen. Roland Burris (D-IL) from being seated, due to having a certificate of appointment that wasn't fully signed.
The national Republican Party pumped a lot of money into support Norm's fight, with a lot of people starting to suspect that this was motivated at least in part by delaying the Democrats from getting a seat. For example, Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, has said it could take "years" to resolve this.
But now it's over. Really and truly over. Sen.-Elect Franken is expected to be sworn in early next week, taking the seat once held by the late Sen. Paul Wellstone -- a staunch progressive and close personal friend of Al's, whose death in 2002 plane crash clearly had a profound effect on the comedian, and spurred him to get seriously involved in politics, and to travel down the road that led us here.