Coleman’s dilemma


by Jeff Fecke • The ruling issued by the Minnesota Supreme Court today denying Norm Coleman’s request to get an unknown number of possibly double-counted ballots tossed pretty much tells us what’s going to happen next. Al Franken is all-but-certain to be certified as the winner. Unless everyone’s assumptions about the absentee ballots are wrong, Franken will hold at least a 47 vote lead, and probably a larger one. And Norm Coleman will have to decide at that point whether it’s worth going to court to overturn the results of the election.

Jeff Fecke is a freelance writer who lives in Eagan, Minnesota.In addition to his own blog, Blog of the Moderate Left, he also contributes to Alas, a Blog, Minnesota Campaign Report, and AlterNet. Fecke has appeared as a guest on The Today Show, the Alan Colmes radio show, and the Mark Heaney Show. Fecke is divorced, and the father of one really terrific daughter. His debut novel, The Valkyrie’s Tale, is now available.

Now, make no mistake — Coleman has every right to contest the election. If his campaign has actual evidence of double-counted ballots, as opposed to the circumstantial evidence presented thus far, then it only makes sense for him to charge forward; indeed, Fritz Knaak all but said that there would be an election contest.

But while it may be legally smart for Coleman to contest the election — after all, what does he have to lose? — there’s another factor in this equation: the political ramifications. And those are not so clear-cut.

Coleman needs to guard against being seen as a sore loser. If his challenge comes off as spurious, he’s going to damage not only his ability to win the challenge, but his ability to rise again as a force in Minnesota politics. And Coleman’s evidence will need to be not only convincing to the court, but it will need to be convincing to the state — after all, Coleman will not be proceeding under a recount. He will be seeking to overturn the certified election of Al Franken. Coleman partisans, of course, will say Coleman is just pursuing justice, and if he has a strong case, then he will be. But Coleman needs to guard against the perception that he’s stealing the seat.

For Coleman, it’s going to come down to whether he wants a future in electoral politics. There’s a better-than-even chance that the governor’s mansion will be available in 2010; if Coleman concedes graciously, then he’ll have two years to position himself for a run, in a race where he would have to be seen as the prohibitive favorite to get the GOP endorsement. If he fights on bitterly, he may get to a point of no return, where he damages his reputation too severely to ever win election in the state again; indeed, that could happen even if he wins the contest.

None of this is to say that Coleman is wrong if he contests the election. That is his right, and while I understand the general sense that this recount has gone on long enough, I have faith in the system. But just because Norm has the right to contest the election, that doesn’t mean it’s smart for him to do so.

originally published December 25, 2008