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Will The Franken-Coleman Battle Ever End?

It's been more than four months since Election Day 2008, and yet the Minnesota Senate fight between Democrat Al Franken and Republican incumbent Norm Coleman continues, excruciatingly, to drag on.

A quick summary of how we got here: Initial returns after Election Day showed a narrow win by Coleman, who promptly called for Franken to concede for the good of the state. Franken declined to do so, and following a recount, the Democrat came out on top. (The margin? 225 votes, out of 2.9 million cast.)

With Franken now ahead, Coleman, no longer a fan of expediency, took the election to the courts; Franken, in turn, filed his own challenges. And now, four months after the election, Minnesotans still do not have a second senator.

"We have been through a canvass, a hand recounting, a state canvassing board hearing, a seven-week trial and several trips to the state Supreme Court," Franken attorney Marc Elias told the Los Angeles Times. "When I landed in Minneapolis on Nov. 7, I never imagined it would last this long."

According to the Star Tribune, Coleman's hopes are now pinned to 1,360 rejected absentee ballots he would like to see counted. Roughly 60 percent of these ballots come from counties Coleman carried in the election, and if they are counted, they could allow Coleman to close the 225-vote gap. Coleman has also called for a new election, alleging that the state's electoral process is fatally flawed.

The trial may be winding down: Minnesota Public Radio reports that Franken has rested his case, and judges have "limited the scope for Coleman's rebuttal, saying he couldn't delve into the reliability of the statewide voter registration database." (Coleman lawyers claim the database is incomplete.) Final arguments are expected next week.

That's not necessarily good news for Republicans. Franken is looking like the likely winner, and if he is seated, the former comedian would give the Democrats a 59th vote in the Senate. That would move Democrats one step closer to the 60 votes needed for a filibuster-proof voting block and make it that much easier for Democrats to pass their agenda.

That fact goes a long way towards explaining why so many prominent Republicans have pushed for contributions for Coleman's legal effort. Those who donated, however, got some bad news this week, when news broke that nearly 5,000 donors' credit card information was posted online.

The Coleman camp, saying the information had been stolen and that "a federal crime has been committed," has urged donors to cancel their credit cards. While they didn't directly blame Franken's side for the breach, they did suggest that partisan considerations might be at play, "as we are engaged in a critical legal contest in the Minnesota courts that has a national impact on the make-up of the United States Senate."

Meanwhile, the St. Paul Pioneer Press is suggesting that the Coleman camp failed to adequately protect the donors' information.

"As recently as late January, databases of thousands of Coleman's donors and assorted contacts sat on a public portion of the campaign's Web site," the Pioneer Press reports. "They were not password-protected, so a Minneapolis consultant was able to find them by essentially surfing the Web. And the credit card numbers weren't encrypted — a violation of credit card industry standards, according to several experts."

As Coleman himself acknowledges, the situation could dampen his ability to keep raising money for his legal fight.

"…just in terms of the campaign and the effort, we are involved in a very expensive legal proceeding," he said. "Online fundraising is a very critical element of that, and clearly the theft of this information, the publication of this information, seriously undermines that."

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