Unresolved Minn. Senate Race Irks Many
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
The Constitution says each state, no matter how big or how small, shall have two U.S. senators. But at the moment Minnesota has one. That's because the top contenders for the other Senate seat, Republican incumbent Norm Coleman and Democratic challenger Al Franken, are locked in a court battle, has filed a recount of the November election giving Franken a 225-vote lead, that's out of nearly three million votes casts.
Lawyers for both candidates presented closing arguments today. Appeals are expected.
And, as NPR's David Welna reports, the patience of a lot of Minnesotans is wearing thing.
DAVID WELNA: Until January, Democratic Amy Klobuchar was Minnesota's junior senator. Now she's both junior and senior senator. Klobuchar admits being a bit of an oddity, as the state's lone representative in the U.S. Senate.
Senator AMY KLOBUCHAR (Democrat, Minnesota): It is fun to be a stop on the Capitol Tour, saying there she is, the only senator. We don't have a lot of friction in our delegation but it's getting a little old.
WELNA: Klobuchar says, for her, the most immediate impact of not having another Minnesota senator is that it's fallen to her staff to handle all constituent services. It's taken a toll.
Sen. KLOBUCHAR: Because they've literally been doing double the work, especially in Minnesota. We've seen a doubling of our case work. And this isn't just people calling about vote this way, don't vote this way, these are people who have real problems especially with today's economy. Veterans' benefits, the Social Security check that doesn't show up, a baby they're trying to adopt from Guatemala that stalled out because of red tape. And they show up at our office with the picture of the baby.
WELNA: And while lawyers for Norm Coleman and Al Franken are battling in a St. Paul courtroom, other Minnesotans are complaining. Brooke Pice(ph) is a hotel sales manager from the Twin City suburb of Robbinsdale.
Ms. BROOKE PICE: It is what it is. Let's just get on with the show and get someone there to represent us.
WELNA: Ann Lease(ph) of Minneapolis who voted for Franken says her patience, too, is flagging.
Ms. ANN LEASE: I'm willing to go on with the process. I do believe in the process. I believe it's important, given that this was the closest election in Senate history. I do think that it's important that the recounts went forward, but I am becoming frustrated with the ensuing court cases. And since there doesn't seem to be an end in sight, that has me worried.
WELNA: Republicans who voted for Coleman are also growing weary, including Minneapolis banker, Preston Koenig(ph).
Mr. PRESTON KOENIG: From what I'm listening to on the news, it's become kind of old story that they're tired of. And so I kind of feel like the same way myself, that it's time to wrap this up and get on with business, and do what we need to do to get somebody in the Senate.
WELNA: Back at the U.S. Senate, though, Republicans seem to be in no hurry to have the Minnesota standoff resolved. Jon Kyl, the number two Republican, is his party's chief vote counter. Kyl says that what's really at issue is the Democratic majority's ability to find 60 votes to stop a GOP filibuster, which is why Republicans are happy to have frontrunner Franken tied up in court rather than seated in the Senate.
Senator JON KYL (Republican, Arizona): Someone who is not here automatically doesn't count as a vote. They need to produce 60 votes. I don't need to produce 41 so it's really not an issue for me. It's more of an issue for the majority leader.
WELNA: And for the assistant majority leader, Dick Durbin. The Illinois Democrat is his party's chief vote counter. And with 58 members currently in the Democratic Caucus, he says it hasn't been easy rounding up 60 votes to break GOP filibusters.
Senator DICK DURBIN (Democrat, Illinois): Every important vote so far has been a death-defying struggle to find one or two more senators. So the absence of a senator from Minnesota has complicated the early days of the session.
WELNA: With today's closing argument before a three-judge panel, Coleman's initial court challenge to the recount results may soon come to an end. If he loses there's a strong possibility that he'd appeal to Minnesota's Supreme Court, and then quite possibly all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Amy Klobuchar is now hedging her bets on how long she'll remain Minnesota's sole senator.
Sen. KLOBUCHAR: I am predicting when the ice melts on Lake Minnetonka, that's April 11th, I now may be amending it to when the ice melts on Rainy Lake, that would be on the Canadian border. That would be May 1st.
WELNA: And anything later than that?
Sen. KLOBUCHAR: Well, there's always the Arctic. And I am not ready to concede that.
WELNA: David Welna, NPR News.
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