ST. PAUL, Minn. — Republican Norm Coleman conceded to Democrat Al Franken in Minnesota’s contested Senate race Tuesday, hours after a unanimous state Supreme Court ruled the former “Saturday Night Live” comedian should be certified the winner.

Coleman announced his decision at a news conference in St. Paul, bringing an end to a nearly eight-month recount and court fight over an election decided by only a few hundred votes.

“The Supreme Court has made its decision and I will abide by the results,” Coleman told reporters outside his St. Paul home.

Franken, accompanied by his wife, told reporters outside his downtown Minneapolis town house that “Franni and I are so thrilled that we can finally celebrate this victory.”

“I can’t wait to get started,” he added. “I’ve been trying to keep abreast of what’s going on, and I’ll do the best I can”

Coleman, appearing relaxed and upbeat, said he had congratulated Franken, was at peace with his decision to concede and had no regrets about the fight, which started almost immediately after the Nov. 4 election.

“Sure I wanted to win,” said Coleman, who called the ruling a surprise. “I thought we had a better case. But the court has spoken.”

He declined to talk about his future plans, brushing aside a question about whether he would run for governor in 2010.

With Franken and the usual backing of two independents, Democrats would have a big enough majority to overcome Republican delaying tactics on legislative votes in the U.S. Senate.

The White House issued a statement saying President Barack Obama looks “forward to working with Senator-Elect Franken to build a new foundation for growth and prosperity by lowering health care costs and investing in the kind of clean energy jobs and industries that will help America lead in the 21st century.”

According to Betty K. Koed, the assistant Senate historian, the 60-vote majority marks the first time either political party has reached that level since the late 1970s.

Coleman’s appeal hinged largely on an argument that local election officials had inconsistently applied the state’s requirements for absentee voters. He and his lawyers had hoped to bring thousands of disqualified absentee votes into the count, but the state’s high court sided with a lower court and rejected that argument.

Because voting absentee is an option, voters who choose to do so have to comply with the law, the justices wrote. And they said there was no valid reason to apply a more lenient standard in judging absentees, as Coleman wanted, than the law required.

“Because strict compliance with the statutory requirements for absentee voting is, and always has been required, there is no basis on which voters could have reasonably believed that anything less than strict compliance would suffice.”

Coleman could have carried his fight into the federal courts, but it was unlikely a federal court would have overturned the state Supreme Court decision. That possibility created months of intrigue over whether Gov. Tim Pawlenty would sign an election certificate if Coleman continued an appeal – a possibility that quickly became moot with Coleman’s concession.

Pawlenty said he would sign the certificate later Tuesday.

Franken declared his candidacy more than two years ago, and he and Coleman have combined to spend $50 million in pursuit of the seat. That’s more than double what it cost candidates in 2002, when Coleman won the seat that had been held by the late Paul Wellstone.

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Associated Press Special Correspondent David Espo and AP Writer Henry C. Jackson contributed to this report from Washington.


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