Recount May Decide Franken-Coleman Senate Race

A tight Senate race from last week is getting even tighter. The latest numbers from Minnesota indicate incumbent Republican Norm Coleman is ahead of Democratic challenger Al Franken by slightly more than 200 votes. Franken talks with Renee Montagne about the narrow margin, which triggered an automatic recount set for next week.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Minnesota's Senate race continues between Norm Coleman, the incumbent Republican, and the Democratic challenger, Al Franken. Only 206 votes separate the two candidates, a mere fraction of a percentage point. Under Minnesota state law, a tally this close requires a full manual recount. That process could take about a month. To find out more about how this tight race is playing out, we got in touch with Al Franken. And he joined us to talk about it. Good morning.

Mr. AL FRANKEN (Democratic Senatorial Candidate, Minnesota; Emmy Award-Winning Comedian): Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: This count has been narrowing since Election Day, since the vote was first counted. Could it get much narrower without you actually becoming the leading contender?

Mr. FRANKEN: Yeah, I mean, it's 206 now. And that's .007 percent, seven one-thousandths of a percent. A recount kicks in at 0.5 percent, to give you a measure of how close this is.

MONTAGNE: To - a perspective.

Mr. FRANKEN: And - but there's going to be a hand recount of every ballot, and there's about 2.9 million ballots.

MONTAGNE: At one point, I gather, Norm Coleman asked you to waive your right to a recount.

Mr. FRANKEN: Yeah. This was the day after the election. He asked me to waive it because it would save the voters of Minnesota, like, 80 or 90 thousand dollars. And he also wanted the healing to begin. I'm not sure that if the shoe were on the other foot, he would have actually done that.

MONTAGNE: You know, sitting here in limbo for the moment, it looks like, regardless of the final outcome, voters there in Minnesota did get past your past as a liberal humorist, which initially was not always working for you.

Mr. FRANKEN: Well, yeah. I think they got to know me in talk about issues. And as hard as, you know, the other side tried to run ads against me, which would take some of the things that I've written in the past and, you know, going through every joke I ever told and why I told it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

And also, you know, when you're a comedian - and I've been one for 38 years or so - you do tell a stinker every once in a while. And then you do - part of being an irreverent satirist is challenging people's tastes sometimes. So that comes back. There are people legitimately offended, and so, you know.

MONTAGNE: Not just you, but the Democratic Party is holding its breath waiting on the outcome of this because you would put the Democratic Party one senator closer to a filibuster-proof hold on the Senate. Is that something that's in a sense driving you as well?

Mr. FRANKEN: Well, certainly we've seen in the last couple of years when Democrats have had a very, very narrow majority in the Senate, we've seen a tremendous amount of gridlock. And we've seen that come through the use of the filibuster. There were 94, I believe, filibusters in the last two years, which is the record for a two-year session, the previous being 60. And we're not - probably are not going to get to 60. But I think 59 is better than 58, and 58 is better than 57.

MONTAGNE: You know, would you take it further, if it came to that, where they recount to leave it still a very narrow distance between you and the incumbent?

Mr. FRANKEN: Well, that actually depends...

MONTAGNE: Revote? Court challenge?

Mr. FRANKEN: We don't know whether - what's happened yet. We're - you know, Minnesota is a very clean state. We've got a pretty transparent system. So I'm not anticipating that. You know, the Coleman camp went to court last Saturday to try to prevent 32 votes, the absentee ballots, from being counted. And we had to go to court on that. And we prevailed. And we're - our just - our motto is just count every vote. And if that happens, we'll be very satisfied.

MONTAGNE: Thank you very much for joining us.

Mr. FRANKEN: Thanks, Renee.

MONTAGNE: Al Franken is the Democratic candidate for Senate in Minnesota. He's currently locked into what amounts to a dead heat with the incumbent, Norm Coleman, who leads by just 206 votes. And we've also invited Senator Coleman to be on the program.

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