Incumbent Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., 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 triggers a recount any time the margin between the top two candidates is less than one-half of 1 percent.
The Associated Press called the race earlier in the morning and then uncalled it, saying it had “called the race prematurely.” Other outlets, such as CNN, deemed the race too close to call.
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.
With 99 percent of precincts reporting, Coleman maintained an unofficial margin of fewer than 800 votes of nearly 2.9 million cast, reported the Minneapolis Star Tribune.
Because of the extremely tight race, both candidates addressed their supporters Tuesday night without knowing the final results.
According to Twin Cities Public TV reporter Mary Lahammer, Franken celebrated Obama’s White House win in a speech around 11:30 p.m. ET and said he would wait until the ballots were counted. “You thought this was going to be easy?” Franken asked the crowd.
In his address around the same time, Coleman said: “This is an historic night in America and I applaud President-elect Obama’s determination to heal the divide that separates us.”
A third candidate, Dean Barkley of the Independence Party, gained some traction among voters disenchanted with Coleman and Franken, but could not pull off an upset. Barkley was appointed to fill the late Sen. Paul Wellstone’s seat from October 2002 to January 2003.
The Minnesota race captured national attention after Franken, a comedian formerly with “Saturday Night Live” and an activist, announced his election bid. Early on, Republicans targeted Franken’s work as a comedian and political satirist in an attempt to paint him as insensitive and demeaning to women.
Coleman had a slight edge in polls until the financial crisis hit, which helped Franken gain ground.
In the final days of the race, Coleman and Franken entered a dispute over a lawsuit alleging that a friend of Coleman funneled $75,000 to him through the company that employs his wife as an independent contractor, the Star Tribune reported on Friday.
The race quickly became one of the most expensive Senate races in the country. Combined, Coleman and Franken raised more than $32 million, according to ABC News.
Coleman won his first term in 2002, narrowly defeating former vice president Walter Mondale who replaced Wellstone on the ballot after his death in a plane crash 11 days before the election.