Coleman, Franken too close to call
ST. PAUL -- Sen. Norm Coleman and Democratic challenger Al Franken waited for election returns this morning in Minnesota's high-profile Senate race. Unofficial returns showed Coleman leading his Democratic opponent 1,013,646 (42.1 percent) to 1,0...
ST. PAUL -- Sen. Norm Coleman and Democratic challenger Al Franken waited for election returns this morning in Minnesota's high-profile Senate race.
Unofficial returns showed Coleman leading his Democratic opponent 1,013,646 (42.1 percent) to 1,004,493 (41.7 percent) with 86 percent of precincts reporting. The Independence Party's Dean Barkley trailed with 338,263 votes (15 percent).
Early today, political scientists began talking about the possibility of a recount. Sate law requires a mandatory recount if a race ends within 0.5 percentage points.
Both candidates braced for a long night, as they traded leads in early ballot returns. Around 11:30 p.m., Coleman and Franken told their supporters to maintain their optimism for several hours more.
"Give the folks a few more hours to finish counting, then we'll hope to give you six years of standing up for what's right," Franken told Democrats in St. Paul.
Franken said Minnesota sent a powerful message by helping to elect Barack Obama president.
"And tonight I'm humbled and I'm grateful, and I can't wait to help President-elect Barack Obama get this country back on its feet again," Franken said before midnight.
Coleman was optimistic.
"There is more counting to be done," he told Republicans gathered in Bloomington. "Save your energy. Keep being hopeful. I'm feeling very good right now."
Barkley, who had trailed significantly in recent polls, had hoped for an election-night surprise, but just before midnight said he would eventually concede to the winner.
"This has been a great fight," Barkley said. "I'm proud of everything we've done."
Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party Chairman Brian Melendez said the fact that Barack Obama won the presidential contest would help Franken, he, too, predicted it would be a long night.
Republicans liked Coleman's chances.
"The marquee (race) of the evening is going to be Norm's re-election," state GOP Chairman Ron Carey said.
Minnesotans who faced an onslaught of negative campaign advertising in recent weeks flocked to the polls to settle Minnesota's most high-profile contest - and one of the most-watched in the country.
Coleman and Franken, who had spent an estimated $40 million between them, entered Election Day trading small leads in independent polls. Neither could establish an edge, leaving them in a virtual tie in the closing days of a long campaign.
State Capitol reporter Don Davis and free-lance writer Julie Bartkey contributed to this story.