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Franken Claims to Have Lead of 35-50 Votes

Missed this story yesterday, but:

Al Franken’s campaign is as close to declaring victory as it has throughout the weeks-long recount in the Minnesota Senate race.

Franken’s campaign attorney Marc Elias said he expects Franken to be leading Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.) by “between 35 and 50 votes” when the Canvassing Board finishes counting all the disputed ballots on Tuesday.

“On Tuesday, I will stand before you with that work completed. Al Franken will have a lead of between 35 and 50 votes. And, at some point not too long after that, Al Franken will stand before you as the senator-elect from Minnesota,” Elias said at a press conference Saturday.

That would be a 35-50 point lead after withdrawn challenges are reconciled in the state’s totals, a process that will certianly result in a net gain for Norm Coleman — but not enough, it seems, to place him back ahead of Franken. For that, he’ll need to have some luck with either the counting of absentee ballots (unlikely — those are more likely to help Franken) or the un-counting of potential duplicate ballots.

Should we take the Franken campaign’s claims seriously? In this case, I think so. Number one, they’ll have a lot of egg on their face if they’re wrong, at a time and place when credibility actually somewhat matters. Number two, Franken’s range is more conservative than the Star Tribune‘s guess of a 78-vote lead for him. And number three, the Coleman people aren’t really pushing back on the specifics of Franken’s claim. They say they’ll have a lead once the recount is “fully completed” — what else are they going to say? — but not that they’re leading now, or that they’ll be leading after the withdrawn challenges are added to the totals. In other words, they need to find votes somewhere (or find some way to take some of Franken’s votes away from him).

Still, it’s at least moderately good news for Coleman if Franken’s lead is only 35-50 votes, rather than the 78 that the Star Tribune projected. Coleman’s path to victory at this point is pretty much that (i) the court mandates a review of duplicate ballots, and that (ii) identifying and removing the duplicates — which as far as I can tell are going to arise essentially at random during the counting process — just so happens to help him. The way that the math tends to work out for this stuff, a lead of 35 votes is much easier to overcome than a lead of 70 votes, in somewhat the same way that you’re much more likely to have a coin come up heads 4 times in a row than 8 times in a row.

Nate Silver is the founder and editor in chief of FiveThirtyEight.