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When Will Minnesota Have Two Senators?

Michael Louisell of Kalamazoo, Mich., asks a question that we'd all like to know the answer to:

When is the Minnesota Senate race likely to be decided?

Don't hold me to this, but I'm guessing sometime before 2010. A more serious answer is that, in the wake of some judicial decisions that went against Norm Coleman, the former Republican senator whose term expired Jan. 3, it may be just a matter of time before Al Franken, the Democratic candidate, joins Amy Klobuchar (D) as one of Minnesota's two senators. But every time we think we're close to a resolution, something else happens.

(For example: A Political Junkie post on Feb. 5 was titled "New Life for Norm Coleman in Minnesota?")

Earlier this week, a three-judge panel rejected Coleman's request to reconsider its earlier decision eliminating 13 of the Republican's 19 categories of previously rejected absentee ballots he felt merited a second look by the judges. But the panel still has to review about 3,300 to 3,500 ballots, more than enough to eat away at Franken's 225-vote lead. There's no telling, however, which candidate would win those votes, should they ultimately be counted.

Some speculate that the Coleman legal team (led by noted GOP lawyer Ben Ginsberg) is attempting to continue the process until everyone decides the only way out is for a do-over — a new election. That's exactly what happened more than three decades ago in a New Hampshire Senate race. I still can't see that happening, but don't discount the possibility of Coleman taking his challenge all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

If there was any question of what's at stake here, it was erased during last Friday night's Senate vote on the economic stimulus package. Democrats kept the vote open for five hours, waiting for Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) to return from his mother's funeral to cast the deciding vote in favor of the measure. Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA), gravely ill with a brain tumor, could not make the vote. Every seat is extremely crucial, and both sides know it.

(And, on a peripheral matter, you can forget about the Senate mustering a two-thirds vote to expel Illinois' Roland Burris. First of all, no senator has been expelled since the Civil War. Second of all, proving he committed perjury is dicey at best. And finally, the Senate is not going to kick out its only African-American member.)

It's been over 3 1/2 months since the election. Before anyone wonders if this is the longest drawn-out Senate race in history, that previously mentioned 1974 New Hampshire race — which came up in one of our posts yesterday — went far longer. It wasn't until July 30, 1975 — more than eight months after the election — that the Senate voted to declare the seat vacant and call for a new election.

So, if you're looking for history, you've got a while yet. Let's see how long Minnesota voters stay patient.