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Minnesota Recount Could Have Far-Reaching Impact

November 9, 2010

Dayton stopped short of declaring victory last week, and also cautioned that a recount should not be political. Both Emmer and Dayton have already formed their respective recount teams.

Those who followed the 2008 recount will recognize some of the names in the mix this time around, including attorney Tony Trimble, who represented Coleman during the last recount, Charlie Nauen, who worked for Franken. Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, a Democrat who was re-elected on Nov. 2 and will oversee the recount process has been criticized by GOPers and said he received death threats during the previous recount.

While there are similarities between 2010 and 2008, there are also some stark differences. Notably, the number of votes separating Dayton and Emmer is significantly larger than the one between Franken and Coleman in 2008.

"Well it's very much unlike the 2008 recount because the margin is so big," said Carleton College Professor Steven Schier. "It's probably going to be a pro forma exercise unless the state GOP can find some examples of incompetence and malfeasance that would allow them to take the whole thing to court."

Additionally, rejected absentee ballots, which were a significant issue in the 2008 recount, are not likely to become a big issue this time around, as there are far fewer when compared with 2008.

"You're talking about fewer total votes and a larger margin," said Marc Elias, an attorney specializing in election law who represented Franken during the 2008 recount. "And whether you look at that in terms of the absentee ballot count or whether you look at it in terms of the overall count, it just makes the math that much harder for Emmer."

So far, there hasn't been much fluctuation in the vote totals as counties continue revisiting their numbers and report them to the state, indicating that a recount will likely be triggered on Nov. 23 (updated totals from Hennepin County gave Emmer a very modest gain).

"I would say that just because of the higher number, the hill is a little bit steeper," said Gregg Peppin, a Minnesota GOP strategist not involved in the race, comparing Emmer's current situation to Coleman's 2008 outlook. "But you did have a very noteworthy misreporting of numbers in Hennepin County."

Even if an eventual recount were to find Dayton to be the winner on Dec. 14, Emmer could still present a legal challenge and file an election contest, further complicating matters.

But for Republicans, extending the race may not come without risks. "Minnesotans were quite patient in 2008 because the margin was tiny," said Schier. "Here the margin is not tiny. And so extending the process may not be seen as an act of good faith by the GOP."

And for Pawlenty, such a development might have mixed consequences, even if favorable numbers in the new state legislature provide him with fertile ground for passing legislation.

"Among national Republicans he'd become a folk hero," said Schier, adding that in the state, "it would hurt him and I think it would hurt the Republican legislature."

Emmer addressed reporters for the first time since Election Night earlier Tuesday afternoon, repeatedly underscoring the need for the current process to play out. He did not engage in speculation over potential court challenges if Dayton ends up the victor after a recount is completed.

"When they get to the contest stage, if Tom Emmer believes he has legitimate ground to contest the election, I have no doubt he and/or the state party will do that. But that would not be cover, in my opinion, for the legislature ramming anything through," said Peppin. "Minnesota is too good government of a state for that to take place and if it did there would be a huge backlash."

Whatever the outcome, the holiday season is likely to become one filled with political news in Minnesota, with state legislators, party operatives and those with an interest in the 2012 presidential campaign all with something at stake.

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