ST. PAUL, Minn. - Al Franken ascended Tuesday from the ranks of former "Saturday Night Live" comedians to an even more exclusive club, outlasting Republican Norm Coleman in an eight-month recount and courtroom saga to win a seat in the U.S. Senate.

Franken's victory gives Democrats control of 60 seats in the Senate -- the critical number needed to overcomeRepublican filibusters. When Franken is seated, which could come as early as next week, his party will have amajority not reached on either side of the aisle in some three decades.

"When you win an election this close, you know not one bit of effort went to waste," Franken said. "The way I seeit, I'm not going to Washington to be the 60th Democratic senator, I'm going to Washington to be the secondsenator from Minnesota."

Coleman conceded the election hours after a unanimous state Supreme Court ruled that Franken -- who moved into politics with books poking fun at conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh -- should be certified the winner. In doing so, he pulled the plug on a bitter election that was ultimately decided by 312 votes out of nearly 2.9 million cast.

"Franni and I are so thrilled that we can finally celebrate this victory," Franken told reporters outside hisdowntown Minneapolis town house, where he was accompanied by his wife. He added: "I can't wait to get started."

Coleman could have carried his fight into federal court, but it was unlikely to overturn the state Supreme Court'sdecision. The prospect created months of intrigue over whether Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty would sign an election certificate for Franken if Coleman was still pursuing appeals, a possibility that became moot with Coleman's concession. Pawlenty signed the certificate Tuesday evening.

"The Supreme Court has made its decision and I will abide by the results," Coleman said outside his St. Paulhome. Appearing relaxed and upbeat, Coleman said he had congratulated Franken, was at peace with the decisionand had no regrets about the fight.

"Sure I wanted to win," said Coleman, who declined to talk about his future and brushed aside a question aboutwhether he would run for governor in 2010. "I thought we had a better case.

But the court has spoken." After Coleman ended election night ahead by several hundred votes, he called onFranken to concede. The Democrat refused, and the thin margin triggered an automatic recount that ultimatelyput him ahead by 225 votes. Coleman challenged those results in January, but a review by a three-judge panelexpanded Franken's lead to 312 votes by the time it ended in April.

Coleman appealed to the state's high court later that month, arguing election officials across Minnesota wereinconsistent with rules on absentee ballots, unfairly robbing thousands of people of their votes. But the state's highcourt soundly rejected that reasoning, voting 5-0 that there was no reason to apply a more lenient standard injudging absentees, as Coleman wanted, than the law required.

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"I think what you had was 12 judges look at this through the canvassing process, through the recount andthroughout the trial, and all agreeing unanimously that I won more votes than anybody else in the election,"Franken said. "I think that is conclusive, and I think that this has been as thorough, as painstaking, as transparentas possible." Franken, 58, has come a long way from the goofy 1980s "SNL" skits where he mocked politicians,portrayed the self-affirming Stuart Smalley and pranced around in little more than a Speedo. His career evolved inthe 1990s with books harpooning Limbaugh and he later gained a liberal following as a radio show host on the "AirAmerica" network.

Minnesota has put an entertainer in office before. In 1998, former pro wrestler Jesse Ventura captured thegovernor's office with an outsider third-party run. Ventura served one term, then resumed private life withoutseeking re-election.

Franken declared his candidacy more than two years ago, and he and Coleman combined to spend $50 million inpursuit of the seat.

That's more than double what was spent in 2002, when Coleman won the seat that had been held by the late PaulWellstone.

For Democrats to exercise their newfound strength with Franken in office, they will need to be as united insupport of a bill as Republicans are in opposition, regardless of regional differences, ideology, or politicalself-interest.

The situation is further complicated by the illness of two senior Democrats who have been absent from theCapitol for weeks.

West Virginia Sen. Robert C. Byrd was recently released from a hospital after undergoing treatment for a staphinfection, and Massachusetts Sen. Edward M. Kennedy is battling brain cancer. It is not known when, or whether,either will return to the Capitol.

An early test of the Democrats could come next month, when health care legislation reaches the Senate floor.Democrats have been seeking agreement on a bipartisan plan with a handful of Republicans. But if those talksfalter, they and the White House may end up needing 60 votes to advance one of the Obama administration'shighest priorities.

In the months since Election Day, both Franken and Coleman kept low profiles. After Coleman's term expired inJanuary, he took a job as a consultant and strategic adviser to the Republican Jewish Coalition, a group thatadvocates in Washington on Jewish issues.

Franken has taken some steps to ensure a quick transition, appointing a staff in waiting that includescommunications staffers, a chief of staff and a state director. He said Tuesday he had been told his assignmentswould include the Judiciary Committee, a role that would put him immediately in the thick of confirmationhearings over Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor.

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Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar said Franken told her Tuesday he's "ready to get started immediately." TheDemocrat said Franken is expected to immediately dive into the health care debate.

"This victory was hard earned for Al Franken and his family," she said. "Franni Franken had a suitcase packed,ready to go to Washington at a moment's notice, like you do when you're waiting to have a baby. She had atoothbrush, clothes, all of that, ready to go."