Coleman v. Franken

The Senate’s top Republican Friday urged Norm Coleman to take his fight against Al Franken all the way to the Supreme Court “until we know who won.”

Franken holds a 225-vote lead after a hand recount of ballots cast in November. But Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) suggested Friday that Coleman’s fight to hold on to his Minnesota Senate seat may still be in its nascent stages.

“This could end up in federal court based on the allegations of the Coleman campaign that there has not been a consistent manner of counting votes county by county,” McConnell said. “I don't know where this ends.”

Asked if he would encourage Coleman to take the case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, McConnell said, “I would until we know who won.”

McConnell’s comments came at a wide-ranging breakfast briefing hosted by the Christian Science Monitor.

In his remarks, McConnell criticized President Barack Obama for using the economic crisis to push through a liberal wish list and praised the Senate GOP’s recruiting for 2010 races. But he declined to comment on the 2010 race being run by the junior senator from his own state, Jim Bunning.

Many Republicans fear that Bunning will be a weak candidate next year, but McConnell said he had “no observations” to share about the race.

He did offer support for the embattled chairman of the Republican National Committee, saying that Michael Steele has “gotten off to a rough start, but we think he’ll hit his stride soon.”

The immediate concern for McConnell is the Minnesota race, which will determine whether Democrats have 59 seats in the Senate, putting them a big step closer to pushing through Obama’s agenda over the next two years. Franken’s legal team rested its case Thursday, and a decision by a three-judge panel is expected this month.

If Coleman loses, he may appeal his case to the state Supreme Court. Coleman also may consider filing an appeal with a federal appeals court and taking the challenge all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, a process that could take months. Democrats have accused Coleman of employing dilatory tactics to ensure the seat stays vacant and preventthem from getting their 59th seat.

“It's not up to me, but I, like most Minnesotans, want to know who won the election,” McConnell said. “And it appears to me we don't know that yet. I assume Sen. Coleman will pursue all opportunities to try to get an accurate count.”

McConnell said that Coleman’s team seems to have been laying the groundwork for a federal appeals challenge by citing the 2000 Supreme Court case in Bush v. Gore, which ended the Florida recount. McConnell argued that the equal protection clause of the Constitution ensures that each county should use similar standards in counting its ballots, which the Coleman campaign asserts was not done in Minnesota.

“We all remember Bush v. Gore,” McConnell said.

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