Can Franken win in a recount?

It's hard to find examples of trailing candidates coming back in a recount, but it can happen.

By Gabriel Winant

Published November 7, 2008 6:22PM (EST)

What would an election cycle be without at least one painfully close race? We should just be thankful that this time, it's only down-ballot races, rather than the whole presidency, that are hinging on just a couple hundred votes.

In the most prominent example, incumbent Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., currently leads Al Franken by 238 votes, a margin down by 100 since Pine County officials realized that, in their election night exhaustion, they had left the 1 off of Al Franken's county total of 129 votes.

What are the odds of the Democrat making up the remaining margin in the coming recount? A brief search turned up only seven cases from the past few decades of recounts overturning Election Night results. Most of the examples were local races, though a couple were more prominent. Most notably, the current governor of Washington (a state approximately the same size as Minnesota), Democrat Christine Gregoire, trailed Republican Dino Rossi by 261 votes at the end of the night. After a protracted recount fight, Gregoire led by 129 votes, and was sworn in. She won a rematch against Rossi this week.

The other comparable recount, of course, never happened. George W. Bush's lead of 537 could have -- depending on the standard -- melted away to an Al Gore victory by as many as 171 votes, according to the post-inauguration newspaper recount.

Minnesota's recount will be conducted according to a broad and painstaking method, so there is certainly some chance of Franken closing the paper-thin gap. Beyond that, it's difficult to forecast. What more did you expect from Minnesota, arguably America's most politically unpredictable state?

Meanwhile, Coleman says -- with obvious sincerity -- that he would call off the recount, were he in Franken's place. "I just think the healing process is so important," Coleman said recently.

Gabriel Winant

Gabriel Winant is a graduate student in American history at Yale.

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2008 Elections Al Franken D-minn.