Franken finally wins in Minnesota

The legal battle over the US Senate race in Minnesota came to an end 239 days after the November vote after Supreme Court ruled for the former comedian Al Franken.

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WASHINGTON // And the winner is - Al Franken. The bruising legal battle over the US Senate race in Minnesota finally came to an end this week - 239 days after the November vote - when the state Supreme Court ruled that the Democrat, a former late-night TV comedian turned author and political pundit, should be certified the victor over Norm Coleman. And then Mr Coleman called his opponent to offer something that sealed the win once and for all: a concession. "The Supreme Court of Minnesota has spoken, and I respect its decision and will abide by the result," said Mr Coleman, whose legal argument, in part, was that certain absentee ballots should have been counted but were not. "It's time for Minnesota to come together under the leaders it has chosen and move forward. I join all Minnesotans in congratulating our newest United States senator: Al Franken." The concession - which seemed to prompt a collective sigh of relief in Minnesota, where voters of all political stripes had tired of the lengthy fight and the jokes it has prompted - was not a given. Mr Coleman, who had been a first-term incumbent seeking re-election, could have filed another appeal, to the US Supreme Court, a step some Republicans certainly hoped he would take. Mr Franken is expected to be sworn in to office next week after senators return from their Fourth of July recess; the senator-elect's wife is reported to have kept a bag packed at home during the entire stand-off, should the couple be called at short notice to Washington. With the outcome of the Minnesota race now final, Senate Democrats will effectively control a super-majority of 60 votes in that chamber, the number needed to overcome Republican efforts to block legislation. That is a notable achievement, as Congress is poised to consider a host of major policy initiatives being pushed by the US president, Barack Obama, including on health care and climate change. The new 60-member majority, however, includes two senators, Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts and Robert Byrd of West Virginia, who have been ill and not present in Washington for votes recently. The majority also includes Arlen Specter, who switched from the Republican to the Democratic Party and has stressed that he does not intend to be an automatic Democratic vote. Mr Franken said something similar in his remarks to reporters on Tuesday, though in form he is expected to reliably vote Democratic. "I'm not going to Washington to be the 60th Democratic senator, I'm going to Washington to be the second senator from Minnesota," he said. Mr Franken, who already had appointed a chief of staff and even met the vice president, Joe Biden, at the White House, also pledged to "earn the trust of people who didn't vote for me, and all the people of Minnesota". When all the ballots were cast and counted - and then recounted - Mr Franken had 312 more than Mr Coleman, out of a total of nearly three million. It was that margin that the Minnesota Supreme Court held up in its unanimous 5-0 ruling on Tuesday. The same day, the state governor, Tim Pawlenty, a Republican, signed the election certificate that officially makes Mr Franken Minnesota's next senator. Mr Obama telephoned the senator-elect from Washington to offer his congratulations, then issued a statement obviously meant to shore up Democratic support on Capitol Hill for his own priorities. "I look forward to working with Senator-elect Franken to build a new foundation for growth and prosperity by lowering healthcare costs and investing in the kind of clean energy jobs and industries that will help America lead in the 21st century," the president said. An editorial in one northern Minnesota paper, the Bemidji Pioneer, welcomed the end of the legal fight and emphasised the need for Mr Franken to get down to business. "Now is the time for all Minnesotans to pull together and allow Mr Franken to set up shop and get to work for all of us," the paper said. "And, of course, for all of us to let him know what we think is best for Minnesota so he knows where he stands. "Come next week, it will be time for Sen Franken to earn his salary."