AP: Minnesota race too close to call

The Associated Press has taken back its projection on the Minnesota Senate race.

Republican Sen. Norm Coleman finished ahead of Democrat Al Franken early Wednesday in the final vote count, but his 571-vote margin falls within the state's mandatory recount law. That law requires a recount any time the margin between the top two candidates is less than one-half of 1%.

The AP called the race prematurely for Coleman.

Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie said the recount won't begin until mid-November at the earliest and will probably stretch into December. It will involve local election officials from around the state.

"No matter how fast people would like it, the emphasis is on accuracy," Ritchie said.

Earlier, Franken, 57, said he would await a recount. He said his campaign already was already looking into reports of irregularities in Minneapolis where some voters had trouble registering, though he wouldn't elaborate.

"We won't know for a little while who won the race, but at the end of the day we will know the voice of the electorate is clearly heard," Franken said. "This has been a long campaign, but it is going to be a little longer before we have a winner."

Ritchie's office ran a speedy recount in September of a close primary race for a Supreme Court seat. That took just three days, but Ritchie said the Senate race is entirely different.

"Having a ton of lawyers and other partisans injected into the process, that will change the dynamics of it," Ritchie said.

Coleman earlier saw his double-digit lead in the polls evaporate as voter worries about the economic crisis escalated.

A former Democrat, Coleman cast himself as an independent-minded legislator. Franken sought to tie him closely to President Bush.

The race tightened further as Barkley drew support from both Democrats and fiscally conservative Republicans concerned about the growing federal deficit, said Lawrence Jacobs, a political scientist at the University of Minnesota.

The state has grown more Democratic in recent years but has a history of supporting third-party candidates, electing former wrestler Jesse Ventura as governor in 1998.

The final days of the campaign were marked by bitter accusations between Franken and Coleman over a last-minute lawsuit filed by a Texas businessman that alleged a Coleman donor had funneled $75,000 to the Republican through his wife's business. Coleman denied any wrongdoing and accused Franken of defaming his wife.

Franken said he had no connection to the lawsuit. "This is not about me," he shot back during the campaign's final debate Sunday. "This is about Sen. Coleman's political sugar daddy."

Franken's celebrity as a comic, writer and liberal talk show host both helped and hurt him.

"It helped him enormously in terms of fundraising," Jacobs said. "There's never been a Democrat (in Minnesota) who has been able to raise as much money as quickly as he did."

But Franken was put on the defensive, attacked for not paying taxes and for penning a raunchy column in Playboy that Republicans denounced as degrading to women. He defended it as satire.

Franken largely avoided humor on the campaign trail, focusing instead on policy issues, emphasizing plans to restore "middle-class prosperity" by making health care and college more affordable.

"There have been no laugh lines in his campaign," Jacobs said of Franken.

"He's been a pretty dreary policy wonk. … It served a strategic purpose — that this (race) was no joke."

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