Thursday, April 30, 2009

Senate GOPs back Coleman all the way

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By J. Taylor Rushing

Senate Republicans are backing their beleaguered colleague in Minnesota, saying former Sen. Norm Coleman should push his election case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Coleman has been battling Democrat Al Franken since November for the seat that used to be his, but recent court decisions have moved against him in the legal battle over the recount. Franken technically has a 225-vote lead, and last week a decision gave him a stronger chance of clinging to it.

But Coleman's colleagues in the Senate say they trust him and his legal team, and are willing to support a bid to the U.S. Supreme Court if the Minnesota Supreme Court rules against him.

"I'll back Norm as far as he believes he should go," said Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.). "He's there on the ground, he's the one with the best information and he's a good and honorable man. It's very hotly contested, very close, and there's a lot of questions."

"Norm is somebody I greatly respect, I think he has very good judgment, and he has a great sense of what ought to be done. It's his case and he's in the middle of it," said Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.). "I know it's not damaging the party because I don't hear that. But I do think Norm is a very sensitive, thoughtful person and whatever Norm is doing I'm sure he believes is exactly the right thing to do and I support that."

Several Republicans compare the Coleman case to the Bush v. Gore decision in 2000, in which the standard of differently-counted votes came into play.

"This is about making sure every legal vote is counted, this isn't just about Norm Coleman. This is about protecting the rights of voters," said National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn (R-Texas). "It's to my mind a very noble endeavor and one in which, frankly, I admire his perseverence. I support getting it right, and if that includes a federal lawsuit, then so be it. I do think there are important legal issues that don't just affect Minnesota, or affect this race. They affect elections all around the country -- a uniform standard to make sure which votes are counted, and which are not."

Moderate GOP members also say they back a U.S. Supreme Court battle if Coleman chooses.

"Whatever he says," said Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine.). "So much has been committed. He's obviously invested so much in time and commitment and money -- it's staggering -- so I think it's important that either side abide by the final process by which the final decision will be rendered. It would put your mind at peace with the outcome."

Republican leadership also say they back Coleman solidly, saying they trust his lawyers' handling of the case.

"They know what to do based on their intimate knowledge of the case," said Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.). "I wouldn't presume to give them advice."

"The question is, 'Should every Minnesotan's vote count?' And there are are lots of votes out there that weren't counted, so the process ought to be played out until it's concluded," said Senate Republican Conference Vice Chairman John Thune (R-S.D.). "He should be able to exercise his options... There's a pretty good rationale for taking it to the U.S. Supreme Court."

Fueling the fire is the thought among many Republicans that Franken has clawed ahead in the race unfairly, by convincing courts away from counting ballots that benefited Coleman.

"It seems to me, based on what I know, that (Minnesota) courts haven't fully understood that concept," said Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.). "Therefore this might be a federal constitutional issue, that you're constitutionally required to count ballots by the same standard statewide."

"There are very important issues involved -- constitutional issues -- and I have no qualms about saying that if he can, he ought to push it all the way," said Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah). "We're so sick and tired of having one set of rules for Democrats they don't abide by, and then another set of rules for Republicans. The Democrats didn't count the ballots the way they should and they didn't put the protections in that they should. It was the Republicans who were better at counting ballots and doing what was right and following the law. They don't do it on the other side as much.

"I don't think it's hurting the party. I think we all realize it's so close and there's a lot involved here and I don't think it's hurt the state, either, because it hasn't hurt them either. It's always good to have two senators, but not when one may not be entitled to the position."

The GOP's talk hasn't deterred Democratic leadership, who say they will continue to assert that Franken won the election.

"We believe the law of Minnesota requires a candidate to be certified after all the state appeals are through, whether someone applies to the federal court or not," said Democratic Conference Vice Chairman Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.).

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