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Minnesota Sen.-elect Coleman won't take office until January

coleman
Sen.-elect Norm Coleman

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ST. PAUL, Minnesota (CNN) -- Minnesota Sen.-elect Norm Coleman said Friday that he will not take office until January 7, leaving interim Independent Sen. Dean Barkley in office until the next Congress convenes.

"While I am eager to begin serving the people of Minnesota, it appears that an earlier swearing in will not give any added seniority for Minnesota," Coleman said in a statement. "I will look forward to beginning my service for this great state on January 7th."

Coleman's decision could have implications for who controls the Senate during a "lame duck" session that begins next week.

Currently, there are 49 Republicans, 49 Democrats and two Independents -- Sen. James Jeffords of Vermont, who caucuses with Democrats, and Barkley, who has not announced who he will support.

Barkley was appointed to the Senate by Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura to serve out the remainder of the term of Democratic Sen. Paul Wellstone, who died in a plane crash October 25. Coleman, a Republican, then defeated Wellstone's ballot replacement, former Vice President Walter Mondale, in the November 5 midterm election for a full six-year term.

There was some question under Minnesota law whether Coleman would take over from Barkley as soon as the election results were certified on November 19 or wait until January 7, when the new Congress convenes.

Coleman's statement said the decision to wait until January came after "an extensive inquiry and review" by his transition team.

Also complicating Senate control during a "lame duck" session is what happens in Missouri, where Republican Jim Talent defeated Sen. Jean Carnahan for the remaining four years of the term her late husband, Gov. Mel Carnahan, who won posthumously in 2000 shortly after dying in a plane crash.

Under Missouri law, Talent will take over as soon as the results are certified, rather than waiting until January. Once he replaces Carnahan, Republicans will have control of the Senate, regardless of which party Barkley supports.

State law in Missouri calls for local canvassing boards to meet "as soon as practicable" to certify the results. Secretary of State Matt Blunt has said that process could take two weeks or longer.

However, in January, once the next Senate is sworn in, Republicans will have control, with at least 51 seats. Democrats will have at least 46 seats and 47 votes, with Jeffords' support.

Two Senate seats remain in limbo:

•In South Dakota, the election night vote count put Democrat Sen. Tim Johnson less than 600 votes ahead of his GOP challenger, Rep. John Thune, which could trigger a recount once results are certified.

•In Louisiana, Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu will face state Elections Commissioner Suzanne Haik Terrell, a Republican, in a December 7 runoff triggered when Landrieu failed to capture a majority on Tuesday.



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