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Panel deals blow to Coleman’s chances

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WASHINGTON (JTA) — A Minnesota panel dealt a blow to Norm Coleman’s hopes for reversing a vote recount in his re-election bid for the U.S. Senate.

The three-judge panel ruled late Tuesday that just 400 rejected ballots may be reconsidered as part of the count. That means Coleman is highly unlikely to make up his 225-vote deficit on April 7, when Minnesota’s secretary of state must reconsider the rejected votes. Not all of the ballots will pass muster and a substantial percentage of those that do are likely to break for Democrat Al Franken.

Coleman, the incumbent Republican, had appeared to edge out Franken on election night, but the automatic recount triggered by a difference of less than half a percent put Franken in the lead, launching Coleman’s appeals.

Lawyers for both sides told the Washington Post that Tuesday’s decision likely favors Franken. Ben Ginsberg, Coleman’s lead lawyer, predicted an appeal to the state Supreme Court.

Were Franken seated, Democrats would have 59 seats in the U.S. Senate, just one short of the number necessary to break filibusters and pass legislation. Democrats have breached some filibusters by swaying a tiny caucus of just three moderate Republicans.

A loss by Coleman would leave Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), one of the moderates, as the only Jewish Republican in the Senate. Specter’s 2010 re-election bid in increasingly Democratic Pennsylvania appears to be vulnerable.

Seating Franken would bring the self-identified Jewish Democratic caucus to 10, in addition to two Jewish independents who caucus with Democrats.

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