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Norm Coleman and Gov. Tim Pawlenty chat Thursday outside the Minnesota Capitol. Across the street, Coleman's attorneys argued before a three-judge panel that they should be able to inspect ballots in 86 precincts around the state in preparation for Coleman's upcoming Senate election trial.

Coleman leaves open legal options

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ST. PAUL -- Norm Coleman is confident he will return to the U.S. Senate, but will not rule out further lawsuits if a state election trial does not send him there.

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"I'm not ruling in or out any action," Coleman said. "I have confidence in the system."

The trial will begin Monday after a three-judge panel rejected Al Franken's request to dismiss Coleman's case. Coleman said the trial should clear up concerns his campaign raised about double-counted votes, rejected absentee ballots and other vote issues.

Coleman spoke to a group of Minnesota reporters Thursday for the first time since he announced his lawsuit challenging the election results that gave him 225 fewer votes than Democrat Franken.

"Let's not worry about hypotheticals," Coleman said of future legal challenges. "I am committed to moving through this process."

That process included a request by Coleman attorneys Thursday that ballot inspectors fan out to 86 precincts around Minnesota where the campaign believes there are inaccurate vote totals. Those precincts are in places as widespread as Dakota, Lake of the Woods, St. Louis, Wadena, Clay and Washington counties.

Inspections - by two partisans and a "neutral" local election official -- could be completed before Monday and would speed up trial proceedings, Coleman attorney Tony Trimble told three judges hearing the case.

Franken's campaign said the request should have come earlier and that Coleman wants to expand what state law says can be part of an inspection. The campaign said there is not enough time to complete inspections before Monday.

"If, in fact, that is something they need to prepare for trial, then I suggest today is too late," Franken attorney Marc Elias told the judges in a Thursday hearing.

As Coleman fights for a second Senate term, he landed another job. He was named a "consultant and strategic adviser" to the Republican Jewish Coalition.

"I'm not part of the millionaires' club," Coleman said, adding he must pay for a home mortgage, his children's college tuition and food. "I will have to do some work and earn a living during ... this proceeding."

The Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party noted that Senate disclosure records show the coalition funded seven trips for Coleman during his Senate term, which ended earlier this month.

Also Thursday, Senate Democrats backed away from earlier comments that they plan to try to seat Franken, who does not have an election certificate because of the pending Coleman lawsuit. A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said there will be no immediate effort to seat Franken, but did not rule out trying to give Franken the seat before the lawsuit is resolved.

Coleman took his election fight to the Internet, releasing a short video in which he tells Minnesotans that Franken's "artificial lead" will disappear when the court corrects ballot problems.

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The campaigns' preparation for the trial has included interviews with some local election officials, including in Clay County. Chief Assistant County Attorney Michelle Winkis told WDAY Radio that campaign attorneys questioned Clay County Auditor Lori Johnson for a couple of hours about conducting elections and about vote totals in Moorhead and Oakport Township precincts.

The election recount results did not match election night totals in those precincts.

"If there's some discrepancies there, there's going to be questions, and there should be," Winkis said.

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