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Norm's Situation Now Has Broader Political Stakes

Category: Al Franken
Posted: 04/14/09 14:17

by Dave Mindeman

I certainly won't pretend I don't have a partisan opinion on the Coleman-Franken contest, but just for a moment I want to try an examine Coleman's situation in a pure political sense.

The court ruling came out officially yesterday. It was sweeping and broad in scope. But, although the conclusions were expected, the strength of the court opinion was a little surprising. As Eric Black wrote in MinnPost:

As expected, the ruling favored Al Franken and declared him entitled to a certificate of election. But I'm not sure anyone expected how firmly and thoroughly TheThree rejected every jot and tittle (whatever the heck a tittle is) of Norm Coleman's facts and arguments. Ouch.

Ouch, indeed.

The ruling was so one-sided that Talking Points Memo couldn't help but notice that Republican reaction seemed to be almost stunned into silence.

So, let's look at where things stand. Coleman is not the only one affected. Pawlenty has decisions to make. The US Senate GOP Caucus has some thinking to do. The State MN GOP has evaluations to make. And all of them have a much more complicated position today then they had yesterday.

So, let's take these in the order of who is most affected.

1. Tim Pawlenty. The Governor is getting boxed in. His office has to initiate the election certificate. It can be safely assumed that Secretary of State Ritchie is willing to sign on right now. But it is Pawlenty that has to issue it. The problems with this can be seen in the rhetoric that Pawlenty has been using lately. He hedges...resorts to attorney type language.... tries to leave his options completely open. As long as Coleman continues to appeal, the pressure on Pawlenty will mount. Pawlenty clearly has higher ambitions and how he handles this situation can certainly complicate that. A 3rd term Governor candidate could be saddled with the perception that he played partisan games at the expense of holding Minnesota representation hostage. A 2012 Presidential candidate will be viewed unfavorably by the cross section of independent voters who will see a simple election contest dragged out unnecessarily. There is a very simple solution. Pawlenty could talk to Coleman and encourage him to concede for the benefit of both of them. Pawlenty could have the ultimate carrot by offering Coleman a private promise that he will not run for a 3rd term.

2. Norm Coleman. Norm has the appearance of being helplessly swept along by events and merely following the wishes of outside forces. Reactions come from the lawyers. He's not speaking for himself. John Cornyn has more to say about Norm's contest than Norm does. In some ways, Norm has to accomodate his donors. This contest has been expensive and now, with the court decision, some of that donor money is going to go to Franken. A situation that is not going to sit well with that "compromised" list of his. He has to, at least, maintain the appearance that he is confidently moving ahead and hope that his donors will follow.

But, now he also has to think about his political future. A relentless course of state and Federal appeals is already looking like a political loser... especially after such a sweeping court decision. If Pawlenty were to bow out of the Governor's race next year, Norm might be able to be a player. But that would mean a gracious and humbling concession speech and a quick shift of gears to state politics. How that would sit with the state GOP is uncertain. It would definitely miff Senator Cornyn, but at this point, why should Norm care? Norm's politcal personna is at a crossroads. If he continues this endless contest, his future in Minnesota politics is pretty much finished and he would be relegated to trying to force the national party to reward him with a party job of some kind, for "doing his duty". Again, Pawlenty holds the critical key.

3. The State GOP Party. Already in the midst of internal turmoil, the State Party seems to be ready to move away from Norm's situation. They have some serious rebuilding to do...and putting resources into a virtually decided 2008 contest has little upside potential. The State Party, at some point, has to diverge from the Senate GOP Caucus. They can't fight a Senate battle that is nothing more than a legal stall tactic. Preparations for the 2010 state election cycle has to begin soon and an endless court process will almost certainly become heavy baggage very soon. If anybody in the state party has Norm's ear, they better start talking.

4. Senate GOP Caucus. For their part, the Senate GOP caucus is the only entity that has anything to gain from the endless appeals. They get to keep Franken out of the Senate and have a stronger filibuster hand to wage. There is no Senate race in Minnesota in 2010, so they do not jeopardize any race that matters to them. And they have a strong card to play that can keep Norm moving ahead with court challenges....they hold a major part of the wallet. Norm's funding is dependent on Senate GOP checkbooks and that is no small thing given Norm's other legal problems.

So who says uncle? When will the various GOP entities decide to break off from the others and come to a more logical conclusion?

The MN Supreme Court appeal may still be a time frame where the electorate will still be sympathetic, but that isn't a safe political bet right now.

Time to consider carefully....the political stakes are getting broader.

comments (1) permalink
04/14/09 15:47

Yes, Pawlenty has the most at stake (see my previous comment on the earlier post.)

But help me out here, what's the Governor's salary ... barely over $100K ... much less than a Senator. Coleman couldn't buy his own suits, lived in a "boarding room" in DC and has a mortgage valued greater than his property valuation. OK, some of those comments are snarky, but the concept is he cannot afford to be Governor. He also has the problem that the hardcore conservatives really don't like him. Would his candicacy splinter the party?

Doesn't it all come down to money. It was not mentioned above but Coleman has to pay for the trial he just lost ... plus for the appeal. How long will the RNC want to foot a bill that they know they cannot win ... especially once the pressure gets put on Pawlenty.

Coleman will become a fulltime lobbyist and prove Franken's June TV commercial correct ... the revolving door from the Senate to K Street must be closed.


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