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Franken v. Coleman dicey for Gov. Tim Pawlenty's political ambitions

April 2, 2009 |  9:50 am

Republican Sen. Norm Coleman sits during a court delay before the start of the Senate recount trial in St. Paul., Minn. on Feb. 26, 2009

Bad enough that citizens of Minnesota have been without the services of their second senator since the new Congress opened in January, as the contest between comedian turned serious candidate Al Franken and incumbent Sen. Norm Coleman (seen above during a court delay) remains too close to call.

Ever since, there's been a steady drip of recounts, lawsuits and political wrangling.

Wednesday, a three-judge state panel decreed that no more than 400 absentee ballots can be reviewed. This was good news for Democrat Franken, who in the current recount leads by 225 votes.

But GOP rival Coleman says if he loses he'll appeal to the Minnesota Supreme Court. And if he loses there, many expect he'll continue to challenge the election all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Which means that Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty -- who was on the short list to be John McCain's running mate last year and who is eyeing his own race for the presidency in 2012 -- may soon have a delicate political decision to make.

If Franken wins the recount, Pawlenty could (1) sign the election certificate that will allow Democrats in Washington to seat Franken (remember Illinois Democrat Roland Burris?), or (2) withhold the certificate while Coleman challenges the election.

If he signs the certificate, Pawlenty would give Democrats their 59th vote in the Senate. But the governor is up for reelection in 2010, and this option might be more popular with mainstream voters. And Pawlenty has shown himself to be a pragmatist.

Just Wednesday, he and Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle of neighboring Wisconsin announced a unique plan for the two states to share services, like hunting licenses and Internet contracts, that could save both states $10 million each. 

If he doesn't sign the certificate, Pawlenty would please Republicans, who think Coleman should have a chance to fight the recount in the federal courts. And this option might make the governor a hero to conservatives across the country whose votes he'll need in a presidential run.

Some Democrats think it could rebound against Republicans to keep the controversy alive once the state Supreme Court rules.

As Minnesota's senior congressman, Jim Oberstar, told Politico.com:

The Republican Party nationally and in Minnesota is playing not just with fire, but with dynamite ... This thing is going to blow up in their face.


But some Republicans think Pawlenty should let the legal challenge play out all the way.

“I hope the governor, and I expect he will, will do the right thing,” said John Kline, a Republican in the state House. "the right thing is to get this through the courts and get a definitive answer. I’m sure the governor is as concerned as I am that this process has got so many discrepancies and disparities in it that it needs to go through the courts and be resolved.”

What do you think?

— Johanna Neuman

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Photo Credit: Associated Press

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