-- Republican Sen. Norm Coleman and former comedian Al Franken late Tuesday night remained in a tight election that drew wide attention because of Franken's celebrity and the potential of the Minnesota race to expand the Democrats' majority in the U.S. Senate.
Franken, a Democrat who gained fame as a Saturday Night Live cast member, and Coleman, a first-term senator, waged the Senate's most costly race: The candidates collected nearly $33 million in campaign cash, according to the non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks money in politics.
Coleman, 59 and a former mayor of St. Paul, 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 a third-party candidate, Independent Dean 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, 57, 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."