Norm Coleman says his fight is for more than a U.S. Senate seat, it's for a constitutional principle.
Norm Coleman is hitting a different kind of campaign trail this week.
The former Republican senator is using a media blitz to convince Minnesotans weary of the recount process and frustrated that they are still a senator short that he has good reason to appeal Democrat Al Franken's victory in the U.S. Senate election trial.
And if the Minnesota Supreme Court sees it his way, he said, he thinks he can win.
"I'm hopeful. I think the law is on our side," he said.
In a meeting Thursday with the Star Tribune editorial board, Coleman said that the principle of enfranchising legitimate voters is more important than leaving Minnesota without two senators for another few weeks.
But Coleman also acknowledged that many Minnesotans are tired of the seemingly interminable recount process, in which he trails by 312 votes after Monday's ruling by a three-judge panel. He is doing a round of interviews, he said, "for the purpose of letting folks know that we're doing this for a reason."
"In spite of what some say, that somehow this is an effort to delay something -- no," he said. "There are very legitimate, important constitutional questions regarding whether or not people's vote should count."
His argument: Absentee ballots that were counted in one place, despite flaws such as missing signatures or unregistered witnesses -- such as in Minneapolis -- were tossed out under the stricter standards used in another place -- for instance, Carver County.
"My vote should not depend, the counting of my ballot, on my address," he said.
Coleman thinks he can win, he said, because most of the disputed absentee ballots from heavily DFL areas already have been counted, while rejected ballots in Republican-leaning precincts such as Carver County and Plymouth have yet to be tallied.
"We believe the counting of those ballots could determine who has won this race," he said.
The trial court erred, he said, in replacing "a substantial compliance standard" for absentee voting generally used on Election Day with much stricter standards. He suggested he might back a centralized system to ensure standards are applied uniformly.
Coleman said he isn't worried that extending the recount could cost him political capital that he could use down the road, should he lose this time.
"I don't spend 30 seconds worrying about my political future," he said. "I don't define myself by the office that I hold. ... If it weren't to continue, that would be fine, too. I'm not looking for another office."
He also declined to say whether he would take the case to the U.S. Supreme Court, if necessary, although he wouldn't rule that out.
He said that he expects an appeal to be filed early next week, well within the 10 days that state law gives him. Joe Friedberg, the noted defense lawyer who led his legal team during the trial, will argue the case before the state Supreme Court, Coleman said.
In a statement, Franken said: "Norm's going to have to decide for himself what to do. I have an excellent legal team who I trust, which allows me to keep my focus on getting ready to do the job I've been elected to do. ... I'm hopeful that I can get to work very soon."
Coleman handily beat Franken last fall when it came to endorsements from the editorial boards of Minnesota's newspapers, but that support is starting to erode. In the aftermath of his court setback this week, a growing number of newspapers that endorsed him are advising him to throw in the towel.
The editorial boards at daily newspapers in Owatonna, Albert Lea, Worthington and Faribault have said he should step aside. The St. Cloud Times, which endorsed independent candidate Dean Barkley, has also called for him to give up his fight.
Editorialists at the Star Tribune and the St. Paul Pioneer Press, the state's biggest papers, have supported Coleman's decision to appeal to the state Supreme Court.
Staff writer Bob von Sternberg contributed to this story.
Kevin Duchschere • 651-292-0164