The longest Senate election in modern US history finally ended yesterday as Minnesota's Supreme Court declared Democrat Al Franken the winner, and defeated Republican Norm Coleman conceded defeat – almost eight months after the actual vote last November 4.
In a unanimous ruling the five members of the state's highest court rejected Mr Coleman's appeal that a previous lower court ruling be overturned. A few hours later he acknowledged the inevitable. "The Supreme Court has made its decision and I will abide by the results," he said. "Sure I wanted to win and I thought we had a better case, but the court has spoken."
The arrival on Capitol of Mr Franken, a former comedian and liberal talk radio host, means that – in theory – Democrats will be able to muster the 60 votes needed to overcome Republican filibusters, the first time they have been in so powerful a position since the Carter era in the late 1970s.
In practice however they will find it extremely difficult to put together this 'super majority,' especially in support of the contentious bills on climate change, health care and financial reform that Congress will consider in the next few months.
For one thing, two Democrat Senators are in extremely precarious health. The Massachusetts liberal Edward Kennedy, who is 77, is suffering from brain cancer and has not been seen in the chamber for several weeks now, while Robert Byrd of West Virginia, at 91 the longest serving Senator ever, is extremely frail and only recently was released from hospital.
For another, the now 58 Democrats and two independents who usually support them are anything but a monolithic bloc. On any major legislation, passage will depend less on defeating Republicans than on concessions to ensure the backing of several conservative Democrats.
But on paper at least, the magic number has been obtained, and President Obama issued a statement last night saying he was "looking forward to working with Senator-Elect Franken to build a new foundation for growth and prosperity by lowering health care costs and... investing in clean energy jobs and industries."
Mr Coleman's appeal hinged largely on an argument that local election officials had inconsistently applied the state's requirements for absentee voters. His lawyers had hoped to bring thousands of disqualified absentee votes into the count, but the state Supreme Court rejected that argument.
The election night count in 2008 gave a 477-vote majority to Mr Coleman, out of almost 2.5m votes cast. But a series of recounts transformed the outcome into the 312-vote victory for Mr Franken that was upheld yesterday.Reuse content