ST. PAUL, Minn. - Republican Norm Coleman conceded to Democrat Al Franken in Minnesota's contested Senate race Tuesday, hours after a unanimous state Supreme Court ruled the former "Saturday Night Live" comedian should be certified the winner.
Coleman announced his decision at a news conference in St. Paul, bringing an end to a nearly eight-month recount and court fight over an election decided by only a few hundred votes.
"The Supreme Court has made its decision and I will abide by the results," Coleman told reporters outside his St. Paul home.
Franken, accompanied by his wife, told reporters outside his downtown Minneapolis town house that "Franni and I are so thrilled that we can finally celebrate this victory."
"I can't wait to get started," he added. "I've been trying to keep abreast of what's going on, and I'll do the best I can"
Coleman, appearing relaxed and upbeat, said he had congratulated Franken, was at peace with his decision to concede and had no regrets about the fight, which started almost immediately after the Nov. 4 election.
"Sure I wanted to win," said Coleman, who called the ruling a surprise. "I thought we had a better case. But the court has spoken."
He declined to talk about his future plans, brushing aside a question about whether he would run for governor in 2010.
Franken's victory will give Democrats control over 60 Senate seats, the number needed to overcome any Republican filibusters to health care, energy, or other legislation they or the Obama administration is seeking.
But to exercise that strength, they will need to remain as united in support of a bill as Republicans are in opposition, regardless of regional differences, ideology, or political self-interest.
The situation is further complicated by the illness of two senior Democrats who have been absent from the Capitol for weeks. West Virginia Sen. Robert C. Byrd was recently released from a hospital after undergoing treatment for a staph infection, and Massachusetts Sen. Edward M. Kennedy is battling brain cancer. It is not known when, or whether, either will be able to return to the Capitol.
An early test could come next month, when health care legislation reaches the Senate floor. Democrats have been seeking agreement on a bipartisan plan with a handful of Republicans. But if those talks falter, they and the White House may end up in a situation where 60 votes would be needed to advance one of the administration's highest priorities.
The White House issued a statement saying President Barack Obama looks "forward to working with Senator-Elect Franken to build a new foundation for growth and prosperity by lowering health care costs and investing in the kind of clean energy jobs and industries that will help America lead in the 21st century."
According to Betty K. Koed, the assistant Senate historian, the 60-vote majority marks the first time either political party has reached that level since the late 1970s.
Coleman's appeal hinged largely on an argument that local election officials had inconsistently applied the state's requirements for absentee voters. He and his lawyers had hoped to bring thousands of disqualified absentee votes into the count, but the state's high court sided with a lower court and rejected that argument.
Because voting absentee is an option, voters who choose to do so have to comply with the law, the justices wrote. And they said there was no valid reason to apply a more lenient standard in judging absentees, as Coleman wanted, than the law required.
"Because strict compliance with the statutory requirements for absentee voting is, and always has been required, there is no basis on which voters could have reasonably believed that anything less than strict compliance would suffice."
Coleman could have carried his fight into the federal courts, but it was unlikely a federal court would have overturned the state Supreme Court decision. That possibility created months of intrigue over whether Gov. Tim Pawlenty would sign an election certificate if Coleman continued an appeal - a possibility that quickly became moot with Coleman's concession.
Pawlenty said he would sign the certificate later Tuesday.
Franken declared his candidacy more than two years ago, and he and Coleman have combined to spend $50 million in pursuit of the seat. That's more than double what it cost candidates in 2002, when Coleman won the seat that had been held by the late Paul Wellstone.
In the months since Election Day, both men have kept comparatively low profiles. After Coleman's term expired in January, he took a job as a consultant and strategic adviser to the Republican Jewish Coalition, a group that advocates in Washington on Jewish issues.
But Coleman also frequently appeared at the lower-court proceeding that handled his legal challenge, in contrast to Franken, who stayed away. Aside from some trips to Washington to meet with Reid and other Senate leaders, Franken has spent his time in private, saying he was studying issues to be prepared if seated.
Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar said Franken told her Tuesday he's "ready to get started immediately." The Democrat said Franken is expected to immediately dive into the health care reform debate.
"This victory was hard earned for Al Franken and his family," she said. "Franni Franken had a suitcase packed, ready to go to Washington at a moment's notice, like you do when you're waiting to have a baby. She had a toothbrush, clothes, all of that, ready to go."
Associated Press Special Correspondent David Espo and AP Writer Henry C. Jackson contributed to this report from Washington.
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