WASHINGTON - Senate candidate Al Franken huddled with Democratic leaders in the nation's capital, in between fundraisers here and in New York to help him pay for a recount that started back in Minnesota on Wednesday.
"I'm cautiously optimistic," Franken told reporters during a hurried walk from Senate Majority Leader Reid's office to his next stop. "We think that all the ballots will be counted. We think that we'll prevail."
Franken trailed Republican Sen. Norm Coleman by 215 votes heading into the recount, and Franken's visit provoked a stinging reaction from Coleman's campaign.
"Al Franken's presumptuous decision to go to D.C. and play senator is an example of his disrespect for Minnesotans and the recount process," said Coleman campaign spokesman Mark Drake.
But Franken said he was meeting with Democratic officials who are experts on setting up an office "because I think it would be irresponsible not to start thinking about that stuff in case I do win."
"No one has a claim on the seat," he added. "The voters have a claim on the seat. The candidates will not decide this, the voters will decide it. That's the beauty of it."
Before boarding a congressional subway car, Franken crossed paths with Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.
"How does it look?" asked Feinstein.
"I'm cautiously optimistic," Franken said, as both politicians laughed.
"Where have I heard that one before?" asked Feinstein.
"I'm cautiously on message," Franken said with a laugh.
Franken said that he updated senators in the meeting on the recount. Franken met with Reid, D-Nev., Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, who chairs the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.
Depending on the outcome of a runoff in the Georgia Senate race, Franken could provide the Democrats with their 60th member — enough to cut off GOP filibusters.
In a statement, Reid said he planned to "hit the ground running" in January to tackle challenges facing the nation.
"There is no time to waste, and we have to make sure each of our new senators and potential new senators is prepared," Reid said. "I appreciate Al Franken meeting with me today and look forward to Minnesota completing its full recount of every citizen's vote."
"I'd really love to be able roll up my sleeves," Franken said, "and get working on all of the different problems that are facing the country."
Franken planned to travel later Wednesday to New York City, where he'll attend a recount fundraiser Thursday night headlined by billionaire investor and liberal activist George Soros and former Vice President Al Gore. He had another fundraiser Tuesday night in Washington; Franken said he had "no idea" how much money that one brought in.
"We have to raise money. I've been doing that," Franken said. "These recounts, unfortunately, do require a lot of field organization" and legal expenses.