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Home / News / The Senate race aftermath: A Washington Post online Q&A with Sarah Janecek

The Senate race aftermath: A Washington Post online Q&A with Sarah Janecek

PIM was asked by the Washington Post to participate in a online question-and-answer session this morning about the Minnesota’s U.S. Senate election, the recount, DFL U.S. Senator-elect Al Franken, the absentee ballots, and many other subjects. Publisher Sarah Janecek (with help from PIM Web Editor Dan Feidt) fielded 22 questions in about an hour this morning. Here are a few excerpts from the chat; please visit the Washington Post for the rest.


Tampa, Fla.: I have a question about dem Senate race in Minnesota, jah, dat I hope you might be answer, jah? Did dat third-party candidate, I forgetten his name, eh, take more votes from dat Franken or dat Coleman, eh?

And does da winner get to put lutefisk on dat Senate dining room menu, jah?

Sarah Janecek: The third party candidate was Dean Barkley, who was appointed by then-Gov. Jesse Ventura to fill out the remainder of Paul Wellstone’s term.

In the 2008 contest, Coleman and Franken each got 42% and, Barkley, 15.2%.

Polling at the time showed that Barkley drew about equally from both Coleman and Franken…BUT this race was so close (312 votes!) that Barkley may have made all the difference in the world.


Boston: The WSJ editorial page is pretty emphatic that Franken “stole the election.” Does the state media view Franken as legitimate? What about the electorate, including those that voted for Coleman?

Sarah Janecek: The state media — and a majority of the public — do think Franken’s election was legitimate. We had an open and very public recount process.

On the other hand, there’s no question that absentee ballots were counted differently by the different vote counting jurisdictions (these were counties and some big cities like Minneapolis). Unfortunately for the Republicans, Coleman’s lawyers never succeeded in getting some of those ballots into evidence. So, the Minnesota Supreme Court — an appellate court that couldn’t hear new evidence — punted. More on the losing Equal Protection argument is here.


Wellstone protegee?: Franken often talks about how much he admired Wellstone. Do Minnesotans views Wellstone as fondly? What will be Wellstone’s influence on Franken? Frannie’s influence?

Sarah Janecek: Absolutely, both Democrats and Republicans view Wellstone fondly. He stuck to his principles. More important, as I flagged earlier, Wellstone recognized his mistakes, and quickly apologized for and then rectified them.

That’s going to be the fascinating part of Franken to watch: Can he do the same thing?

As for Franni Franken, I’m a huge fan. As long as Franni keeps her man honest, Al won’t fly off the rails!


Washington, D.C.: What was it about the absentee ballots that the court thought disqualified them? Were they badly marked? unsigned? Sent too late? And what part of the assessment did Mr. Coleman disagree with?

And did he know that they were votes for him or did he just hope they were?

Sarah Janecek: Great question. And this is the muddle — those absentee ballots. What disqualified them are the factors you have as questions. The problem for Coleman was that many of the ballots were separated from their envelopes, and thus that factor (what was on the outside of the envelope) didn’t matter for some ballots.

This will be the quagmire our state and election buffs will study and ponder…those absentee ballots. By the way, a locally-owned television station, Hubbard Broadcasting, has made a data practices request (like a federal FOIA) on all these ballots, so hopefully, when all is said and done, we’ll have clarity.


Washington, DC: Is Marc Elias the real hero of this effort for the Franken team?

Sarah Janecek: In my view? Franken’s attorney, Marc Elias, was brilliant. Plus, he didn’t come across to local media as being some elite East Coast lawyer. Elias charmed the pants off many Minnesota media!


The number is 58%: It’s not that he only won by 312 votes. He got 42%. That means 58% of Minnesotans voted against him, and for a more conservative candidate. No lefty mandate, indeed!

Sarah Janecek: There’s a flip side to that argument, and this happens a lot in Minnesota.

Close only counts in horseshoes and all that. Democrats have tried to minimize Pawlenty’s influence by continuing to point out he was elected by a plurality, not a majority.

But when all was said and done, Franken is our junior Senator and Pawlenty has the northwest suite at the Capitol in St. Paul.


Evanston, Ill.: Who is more radical, Bernie Sanders or Al Franken?

Sarah Janecek: Al has the more radical sense of humor, but Bernie is the more orthodox socialist!


Be sure to visit WaPo for the rest of the conversation. Also, thanks from PIM to the WaPo staff for a fun and informative session!

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