Republican activists remain confident that Minnesota’s Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty will help Norm Coleman continue his fight to be declared the winner of the state’s deadlocked 2008 Senate race.
Pawlenty “will fight like hell” to delay certifying Democrat Al Franken the winner of the race, should Coleman, a Republican, lose his appeal pending before the state Supreme Court and move to take his case to the federal courts, said Sarah Janecek, a Republican commentator and publisher of the newsletter “Politics in Minnesota.”
So far, Pawlenty, whose signature is required to certify a state election, has evaded questions about whether or not he plans to certify a winner of the pivotal race if Coleman’s challenge is unsuccessful and he decides to fight on.
Despite increased pressure from Democrats that the race be called in Franken’s favor, the Republican activists contend Pawlenty is prepared to allow the legal process to play out even if an appeal delays a resolution of the race.
“My sense is the governor is not going to issue a certificate of election until all reasonable opportunities for an appeal have been exhausted or Norm Coleman has not decided to pursue a further appeal,” agreed Chris Georgacas, a former Minnesota Republican Party chairman.
Republicans in the state acknowledged, however, that Pawlenty’s hands are likely to be tied by the state Supreme Court, which could require the governor to sign the certificate. Last month, a state trial court declared Franken the winner of the race by 312 votes.
Pawlenty may, however, face unhappiness from the state’s independents and Democrats if he plays a role in delaying certification.
A Minneapolis Star-Tribune poll released April 27 found that 73 percent of respondents want Coleman to concede if he loses the Supreme Court appeal, including a majority of Republicans.
Eric Fought, spokesman for the state’s equivalent to the Democratic Party—the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party— underscored that the Star-Tribune poll and other recent surveys present a forceful political reason for Coleman and Pawlenty to pass up extending the case any further.
He said the consensus among Minnesota voters that the race should end with the state Supreme Court ruling “continues to grow every day.”
Pawlenty’s office did not return calls seeking comment, but the governor has said in the past that he would abide by the court’s dictates. Gina Countryman, spokeswoman for the Minnesota Republican Party, agreed, saying, “Gov. Pawlenty will do what the courts expect of him.”
If the governor does allow Franken to be named the winner, Georgacas doubted that Pawlenty would suffer politically or face a backlash among the state’s rank-and-file Republicans.
Should Franken prevail in the state Supreme Court, which will hear oral arguments June 1, the Democrat is expected to take legal action to force Pawlenty to certify him the winner. Such a lawsuit would leave it up to the state Supreme Court to determine whether the law requires Pawlenty to sign the certification—a point now under dispute.
Just the same, Minnesota Republicans have resisted attempts by Democrats in Minnesota and Washington to influence the outcome of the race.
They denounced as a stunt a $10,000 advertising campaign funded by Americans United for Change, a progressive group, which called on Pawlenty to certify a winner after the state Supreme Court makes its decision.
Despite being too small a campaign to fill much air time, the ad nonetheless received abundant media coverage.
“A measly $10,000 campaign from some unions and Democratic-organized public pressure means nothing,” Janecek said.
Still, the ad and the attention it generated reflect the renewed national political spotlight on Pawlenty.
The attention is largely due to Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter ’s recent defection to the Democratic Party, a move that greatly increased the political stakes of the outcome of the long-contested race. If Franken is declared the winner Democrats would on paper have sufficient votes —the magic parliamentary 60—required to overcome opposition from Republicans.
That reality has renewed calls for the second Minnesota senator to be seated. New York Sen. Charles E. Schumer , the third ranking Democrat, last week warned Pawlenty against delaying certification after the state Supreme Court rules.
“Pawlenty’s signature is very, very important. We expect it to happen after the Supreme Court of Minnesota rules,” Schumer said. “That’s what we believe the law is, clearly and unequivocally.”
On Wednesday, Vice President Joseph R. Biden also signaled that the White House wants the race resolved. Biden met with Franken in the White House, arranged for photographs to be taken and issued a statement saying he expected to be working with Franken in the Senate once the state Supreme Court has ruled.