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Washington, DC — You'd expect Norm Coleman to look tired following his whirlwind final push for election, but Minnesota's senator elect is beaming with energy and his trademark optimism.
"I'm still pinching myself to say 'how did I get here?'. You know this race took such twists and turns and tragedy, and yet all said an done here I am and part of a majority, a Republican majority, just part of a group I think that's prepared to work very hard to produce not just for Minnesota certainly my constituents, but for America," Coleman said. Coleman says he doesn't know exactly what he'll attempt to specialize in in the Senate. Coleman was elected St. Paul mayor promising to crack down on crime. But his focus quickly shifted when he took office and it became clear economic development needed his attention.
"Clearly jobs is a major issue here, but I'm also looking at health care as a jobs issues, and health care as a committment to our seniors issue and health care as a committment to small business and to baby boomers as an issue, the cost of health care, the quality of health care. I'm not sure at this point a lot of it will depend what opportunities I have in terms of committees," he said.
Coleman says he doesn't know what committee assignments he might land. He's guardedly optimistic he can get a seat on the Agriculture Committee. After initially talking about a spot on the Finance Committee, he seems now resigned to the notion that's out of his freshman-status reach and is now looking more toward a place on the Commerce Committee.
Although Coleman comes to the Senate on the bottom rung, he says his White House ties bolster his standing along with all of the attention that was focused on Minnesota's Senate race.
"I think I bring extra clout because of the relationship with the administration - great relationship with the administration. I bring clout because of the high profile of this race. There were a number of representatives at the White House reception who came up to me and thanked me, saying what we did in our race helped them in terms of getting their own folks fired up. They though it had an impact in terms of their election," Coleman said.
But Coleman also says he and other incoming Republicans are acutely aware, even though for the first time in nearly a half century the GOP controls Congress and the White House, they can't be effective unless they compromise with Democrats.
"There are no excuses for not getting it done and even in the Senate -- by the way you really need 60 votes, not just 51 -- we may now control when things come up, that's what having the power of the majority leader, the ability to act on things but quite often you need 60 so you can't just do it operating from your corner of the universe," he said.
After a meeting with Coleman, Minnesota's senior senator, Democrat Mark Dayton, said he looks forward to building a constructive relationship with the Republican. Dayton, who's known Coleman for 15 years, says Coleman's communication skills will be valuable to the new senator.
"There's great deal of working together with people from the other side of the aisle and Norm will be very good at that. He's a very good people person and he certainly understands the political process. He'll do very well here," Dayton said.
Coleman has also been meeting with interim Sen. Dean Barkley, I-Minn., who has pledged to do whatever he can to help Coleman short of stepping down right now. Barkley says he is open to leaving his Senate appointment a few days early if that would help Coleman with seniority. Barkley is also working to help some Coleman staff get a jumpstart on their work in Washington, possibly by sharing some of his $500,000 interim budget.
Coleman says Barkley's overtures are much appreciated and that he and Barkley want simply to do that which will best benefit Minnesotans.
"This is going to be a very smooth transition. In fact, I think it will give me a decided edge over many of my colleagues in that I'm going to hit the ground running. When we do the transition, we'll have to finalize, but it's a very, very smooth transition," he said.
For Coleman, going into the Senate will also mean significant personal transitions. Coleman has already begun trying to figure out where he'll live.
"I don't know if there are any bargains to be found in shopping for apartments in Washington. The good news is that my family lives in New York and New Jersey; it's not that far from here, so if I get someplace that's not finished, I think I can take a truck down with some of the extra table and chairs that my mother and sisters might have. These are the practical things that you've got to deal with."
There's also the matter of Coleman's family. He says for the foreseeable future they'll remain in St. Paul.
"I've got a son who's 16, he's in 11th grade and I don't want to take him away from his classmates and his friends, so I'm going to have to commute. My daughter's 12, so a little more flexibility there but I clearly for a year and a half I will have to be a commuter, have an apartment in Washington, but my family will be in St. Paul," he said.
Although Coleman won't likely been sworn in until early January, he plans to be back and forth between Minnesota and Washington during the transition period.