Senate race likely to enter new year

ST. PAUL, Minn. - Republican Sen. Norm Coleman's lead over Democratic challenger Al Franken in Minnesota's U.S. Senate race dwindled to just two votes yesterday. And a key ruling put hundreds of improperly rejected absentee ballots in play, promising that the state's recount would drag into 2009.

The Minnesota Supreme Court ruled that those absentee ballots be included in the recount. It ordered the candidates to work with election officials to set up a process to identify ballots that were rejected in error. Counties must make a report by Dec. 31.

The ruling came as the state Canvassing Board nearly erased what had been a 360-vote lead for Coleman before it began its third day yesterday of reviewing disputed ballots. Hundreds of challenges have yet to be decided, thousands of withdrawn challenges have yet to be tallied, and the improperly rejected absentee ballots are estimated at 1,600.

- AP

Las Vegas begins to shake off snow

LAS VEGAS - Flights resumed in and out of Las Vegas, but schools and highways were closed yesterday after a record-setting snowfall coated marquees on the Strip, weighed down palm trees, and blanketed surrounding mountain areas.

The city awoke to clear weather after a storm that left 3.6 inches at McCarran International Airport. It was the biggest December snowfall on record there, and the worst for any month since a 71/2-inch accumulation in January 1979, forecasters said.

The storm also dumped snow or rain and snarled travel in other parts of Nevada, much of southern California and parts of northern Arizona. In Washington state, Seattle got a rare 4-inch accumulation; in Spokane, the 17 inches that piled up by 4 a.m. yesterday broke a 24-hour record total of 13 inches set in 1984.

- AP

Sen. Brownback won't run again

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Kansas Republican Sam Brownback announced yesterday that he would not seek a third term in the U.S. Senate.

Brownback said he owed it to Kansans to keep his word and retire more than keeping seniority in the Senate.

Brownback, 52, was elected in 1996 to finish the term of Sen. Bob Dole, who resigned to be the GOP nominee for president. Brownback then won full, six-year terms in 1998 and 2004, and for a time was a candidate for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination.

Brownback declined to say what he would do after his term ends, though it is widely expected he will run for Kansas governor in 2010.

- McClatchy Newspapers

Elsewhere:

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger

swiftly rejected an $18 billion package of cuts and tax increases pushed through the California Legislature by Democrats yesterday, saying the plan to reduce the state's burgeoning deficit would do nothing but "punish the people of California."

The Rev. Al Sharpton

took Caroline Kennedy to lunch yesterday at Sylvia's, a famed Harlem soul-food restaurant, as she continued her quest to win appointment to Hillary Rodham Clinton's U.S. Senate seat from New York.