Al Franken won a key ruling from a three-judge panel in Minnesota, confining the election recount there to 400 absentee ballots and thus probably protecting Franken's 225-vote lead.

The ballots are to be counted in open court next week.

The Times called the ruling "potentially decisive;" a "GOP staffer close to [Challenger Norm] Coleman" told Politico "It’s not looking good.” Coleman really needed more like 1,400 absentee ballots counted.

The Republican's people have already promised Politico they have "no choice" but to appeal to the Minnesota Supreme Court. Which isn't quite the same thing as Coleman saying it; he could suddenly decide to be the noble loser and contradict his staff and bow out, but that's not expected, the appeal is.

Assuming Coleman loses at state supreme court, the Republican could keep appealing, maybe forever, at the federal level, but everyone who didn't detest him for the state appeal will then begin to hate him, and everyone else will be just absolutely seething.

No one knows when Franken would get seated amid all this. Most likely after the state appeal and during any federal appeals. Anyway it's not like the Democratic president desperately needs votes in the senate to pass a budget, financial rescue plan or health care reform this year, or anything.