With the ability to filibuster in the balance for Republicans, Minnesota’s Senate race becomes even more critical — and it’s likely to take days to figure out who won.  Norm Coleman and Al Franken had a photo finish in their race, and even now the count continues — with Coleman ahead by 1,123 votes and nine precincts left to report.  That will trigger an automatic recount:

Sen. Norm Coleman is leading Democratic challenger Al Franken in one of the most bitter U.S. Senate races in Minnesota history.

With 99 percent of the 4,130  precincts reporting, Coleman maintains an unofficial margin of  less than 800  votes out of nearly 2.9 million cast, almost assuring that there will be a recount.  Required in races with a winning margin of less than one half of 1 percent, the recount could delay a final result for days while ballots are retabulated across the state.

By law, Franken could waive a recount, but that seems highly unlikely.

That would take a great deal of class and selflessness, two qualities that have yet to be seen in Franken.  Truthfully, though, the recount provision exists for good reason: to ensure we get the right results in our elections.  If it comes down to this thin of a margin, a recount should take place.

Thankfully, we don’t have a majority requirement in Minnesota as Georgia does, because Franken would probably win a run-off, I’m embarrassed to say.  Dean Barkley pulled more Democrats than Republicans in Minnesota and may have given Coleman his re-election.  Most of us expected Coleman to win handily, but the overwhelming win for Barack Obama allowed Franken to draft behind him — although Minnesotans split tickets to support Norm in the end.

It doesn’t look like we’ll have a definitive answer for days here.  Right now, the Republicans have confirmed 40 seats, and Saxby Chambliss may still avoid a runoff in Georgia and claim a 41st seat.  Gordon Smith had edged ahead of Jeff Merkeley in Oregon, and if that holds up, we may have a pleasant surprise.  We may yet get the 57-43 split I predicted on Monday, but I’d bet Minnesota will be the last to clinch.

Update: The final numbers show Norm Coleman beating Al Franken by 726 votes:

NORM COLEMAN…..1211627    42.00
AL FRANKEN…………1210901    41.97