WASHINGTON (CNN) – Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minnesota, began packing his Capitol Hill office Wednesday, but indicated he has no intention of giving up his legal fight to serve another term in Congress.
Coleman trails Democrat Al Franken by 225 votes. But in an interview with CNN, Coleman called Franken’s lead “artificial,” and expressed hope that the Minnesota courts will rule in his favor on ballot disputes when they take up the question next week.
“I really do have a sense of confidence that this will work itself out the right away,” Coleman said.
Franken, the comedian-turned liberal talk show host-turned political candidate, was also on Capitol Hill Wednesday meeting with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, “to discuss the legislative agenda, especially the economic stimulus” plan, a Reid spokesman said.
Back in Minnesota, lawyers for the two men met with a three-judge panel in the afternoon to hear arguments brought by Franken's attorneys that Coleman's pending legal challenge to contest the recount results should be dismissed.
“We have got a good shot at this and so I proceed with that in mind,” he said. “But logistically you have to move out of the office.”
For the time being, Coleman plans to send his Senate papers to the Minnesota Historical Society, but with the caveat that they would be returned if he overcomes Franken’s lead and wins a second term. He was first elected in 2002.
Coleman was once viewed as a rising star in the Senate, and often mentioned for leadership positions within the Senate Republican Conference. In 2004, Coleman lost a bid to run the National Republican Senatorial Committee to Sen. Elizabeth Dole, R-North Carolina, by one vote. Now, he is fighting for his political life, and removing the pictures from his Senate office walls.
“It is really hard,” he said. “It is hard on multiple levels. It is hard certainly an emotional level. I wonder what folks, who have been here 24 years or 18 years, they have to pack up. There are a lot of memories. And then there is a practical side … we have a sense of confidence we are coming back.”
One of the many perks senators are afforded is a front-row seat to presidential inaugurations. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, gave Franken tickets so he could attend President Barack Obama’s swearing-in ceremony. Coleman watched it at home in Minnesota.
“I would have loved to have the opportunity to have been there as a member of the U.S. Senate,” he said. “Circumstance didn’t provide that, but I celebrated the moment like everybody else. It was a great day for America yesterday.”
At about the same time Wednesday that Coleman was striking an optimistic tone, Reid was chiding the Republican senator for not conceding the race to Franken.
“There is no way that Coleman can win this,” Reid said. “The numbers just aren't there. He should concede. There (are) a lot of people who did the same thing and it's better for them. Polls in Minnesota show that about half the people are upset at Franken, I'm sorry, I mean upset at Coleman asking for this additional work.”
A Reid spokesman said that at some point he may attempt to seat Franken, but cautioned that no decision has been made yet.
The Minnesota seat is the only vacancy in the Senate, which Democrats control by a 58 to 41 margin. Should Franken prevail, Democrats would be one vote shy of the magic number of 60, which would give them the power to muscle through major legislative initiatives over Republican objections.
Coleman predicted that Reid would not dare to seat Franken until legal proceedings are resolved, because he has not been presented with a signed election certificate by state officials. For weeks, Reid would not acknowledge Roland Burris as the junior senator from Illinois because his certificate lacked the secretary of state’s signature.
“I am quite confident that the United States Senate will not seat someone without a signed election certificate,” he said. “And I believe that will be handled in a bipartisan way.”
Coleman said that if he loses the election, he is certain that he will land on his feet in academia, private practice or another public service role.
“I am not wringing my hands over it,” he said. “My being is not defined by being a United States senator. I have given my life to public service.”
Coleman added, “I am confident that we will be back on top.”
–CNN’s Chris Welch and Ted Barrett contributed to this report