Can Norm Coleman Still Have A Political Future?

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With the new report that Norm Coleman might actually be preparing to throw in the towel on his lawsuit against the Minnesota Senate election results, should the state Supreme Court hand down its widely-expected ruling in favor of Al Franken, let’s look at the reasons why this might be. It might be coming down to one thing: The basic health and viability of any future political career that he might hope to have.

Keep in mind that Minnesota public opinion is that the race should be over — the latest Rasmussen poll put it at 54%-41%. However, Prof. Larry Jacobs of the University of Minnesota explained to me that the opinion may have majority support right now, but it isn’t felt intensely. It’s not at the top of people’s minds or in everyday news reports. However, that would all shift very quickly once there is a state Supreme Court ruling.

“Coleman is facing the prospect of widespread and harsh condemnation if the Supreme Court comes back decisively in Franken’s favor,” said Jacobs. At that point, three different bodies — the state canvassing board, the trial court, and the state Supreme Court — will have all ruled after lengthy proceedings that Franken is the legitimate winner.Another key point, Jacobs said, is that Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty just announced that he’s not running for re-election in 2010. “Norm Coleman is an obvious frontrunner for that. There is no other state Republican official who would be in a position to enjoy the name recognition and the track record that Coleman has,” Jacobs said. “The only question with Coleman is, can he rebound from the recount battle? And you know, time heals all wounds, and the Coleman campaign would have some reason for optimism that in a year and a half, they could rehabilitate him to run for this office.”

But the choice is very clear: If Coleman were to continue to fight out the Senate race, he would irrevocably turn the media and the people against himself, which he would likely never be able to overcome.

I also spoke with Pat Anderson, a former state Auditor who is currently president of the Minnesota Free Market Institute, a conservative think tank — and is also considering the gubernatorial race herself. “I don’t talk to him directly about this, so I don’t know what he’s inclined to do,” said Anderson. “But I think at some point you can only go so far, frankly.”

For her part, Anderson said she would be shocked if Coleman ran for governor. She also thinks that Coleman could have a hard time winning the official party endorsement under the state’s traditional system of local caucuses and a state party convention — though he might be able to raise money and garner support for a primary campaign against the eventual party-endorsed candidate.

I asked Anderson why Norm might have difficulties with the endorsement. “I think some of his positions on issues; I think this latest election; there are other good candidates — and I’m not just talking about myself — there’s gonna be a good field of candidates,” said Anderson. “I think he would be lower on the list for endorsement. He could raise some money to mount a very formidable primary challenge, and he has a base. He’s still very well liked.”

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