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Minnesota Senate race loses some significance

ST. PAUL -- Al Franken no longer can be considered the potential 60th vote.

A runoff election Tuesday in Georgia left Minnesota with the only unresolved U.S. Senate race this year --- and Franken hoping to be Senate Democrat's 59th vote, not the critical 60th that would allow them to block GOP filibusters.

The Southern race was important beyond Georgia because Democrats needed to win there and to see Franken beat Republican U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman in Minnesota's recount in order to reach that 60-vote threshold.

But the Georgia victory by GOP Sen. Saxby Chambliss over Democrat Jim Martin may stifle some buzz surrounding the Minnesota race.

Coleman lead recount attorney Fritz Knaak said the Chambliss victory means Minnesota will get less national attention and scrutiny.

"It changes nothing in terms of how we're doing things internally and how we're approaching what we need to do," Knaak said of the campaign's strategy going forward.

The lone unresolved Senate race remains in the hands of Minnesota election judges - literally. Local officials have recounted 93 percent of the 2.9 million ballots, the secretary of state's office reported Tuesday night.

In those returns, Coleman's lead over Franken shrunk to 303 votes, compared to 344 Monday. The margin reflects changes found during the recount that were applied to Coleman's 215-vote lead heading into the recount.

Franken leads Coleman 1,122,413 to 1,119,878 in the raw vote, but that does not include the 6,003 ballots that have been challenged by the campaigns. The final numbers are expected to be within hundreds. Republican-leaning Scott and Wright counties are among four counties that begin recounting today.

The recount routine was interrupted Tuesday when 171 previously uncounted ballots were discovered in Maplewood. Ramsey County Elections Director Joe Mansky said the ballots were not recorded Election Day when a broken ballot machine was replaced.

The secretary of state's office sent a letter to Ramsey County seeking more information about the ballot mishap.

The recount should be complete by the end of this week. The Canvassing Board meets Dec. 16 to begin reviewing challenged ballots. Franken's campaign has challenged 2,910 Coleman ballots. Coleman observers have challenged 3,093 Franken ballots.

The campaigns say they will withdraw some challenges. A Minnesota Public Radio analysis of 1,000 challenged ballots found that the voter's intent was questionable on only 200 of them.