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Ciresi trailing in Senate race for DFL delegates

Senate candidate Mike Cerisi
MinnPost photo by John Noltner
DFL Senate candidate Mike Ciresi appears to be far behind in the early count for delegate support.

Mike Ciresi's chances of winning DFL endorsement to run in the U.S. Senate race against incumbent Norm Coleman seem to be fading.

Several sources close to the three major campaigns told MinnPost today that if the party's state convention were held this weekend, Ciresi would finish third, behind favored Al Franken. He also reportedly trails Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer, a St. Thomas professor who, by most accounts, is running in second place for support among delegates who will bestow endorsement at the DFL state convention in Rochester June 6-8.


Ciresi's apparent troubles in gaining the support of delegates at district conventions have led to persistent rumors that the Twin Cities attorney will announce that he will not honor the endorsement process but, instead, will run in the primary in September.

Ciresi's campaign again strongly denied those rumors Thursday morning.

"Mike has said a million times that he's going to abide by the endorsement process,'' said campaign spokeswoman Leslie Sandberg. "Nothing has changed. Mike Ciresi will abide by endorsement.''

Ciresi campaign blames Franken forces for rumors

Sandberg said that the rumors that Ciresi won't honor the convention endorsement are being floated by the Franken campaign.

"This is a classic case of them saying, 'Let's deflect the attention from Al's workers' compensation problem to something else,' '' Sandberg said. "Look, he's got a lot of union support. Workers' compensation is a key issue to working people. This is a serious matter. He needs to be responding directly to it.''

The matter Sandberg is referring to is the $25,000 fine Franken paid to the state of New York Thursday for failing to carry workers' compensation insurance for employees of his corporation, Alan Franken Inc. The state of New York says it began sending Franken notices of his obligations in April 2005 but never received responses.

Franken's campaign has said that the candidate's accountant will continue to look into the matter and that Franken denies there was ever an attempt to evade responsibility. If the state proves to have been wrong, the fine presumably would be refunded.

Franken's campaign vehemently denied it was floating rumors about Ciresi.

Al Franken
Al Franken

"Making utterly baseless accusations about the Franken campaign is generally Republican territory,'' said Franken communications director Jess McIntosh. "But yes, it is utterly baseless.''

In fact, the Republican Party is using the Franken workers' comp problems as another bullet in its attacks on Franken.

Thursday morning, Republican chairman Ron Carey announced that he had filed a Freedom of Information request with New York's workers' compensation board seeking all correspondence the board had with Franken.

Eliot Seide, executive director of Council 5 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), doesn't believes there is a labor problem for Franken coming out of the New York case.

"Honestly, we think it's a bureaucratic snafu and that it will be resolved," said Seide, whose huge union has endorsed Franken. "We know Al. He's a friend of working people. He's got a perfect record on workers' comp in Minnesota. No one ever filed a claim in New York. This is something that will be resolved."

Though he had heard the rumors about Ciresi bypassing endorsement, Nelson-Pallmeyer said that he'd never really believed them and was not interested in the rumor mill.

"Until I hear differently, I will continue to assume that the multiple statements that he has made that he will abide by endorsement are true,'' said Nelson-Pallmeyer. "I think abiding by endorsement is extremely important because we need to unite around whoever the party's candidate is going to be in November.''

Ciresi campaign acknowledges it's behind in delegate race
The Ciresi campaign acknowledges it is trailing Franken in the delegate count.

"We have said all along that we are trailing Franken,'' Sandberg said. "But we do believe there are a large number of uncommitted delegates who will come out for Mike at the convention. And we will keep working hard. This is far from over.''

This is Ciresi's second bid for the Senate. He ran unsuccessfully in 2000, losing to Mark Dayton in the DFL primary.

Senate district and county conventions have been ongoing since the state's Feb. 5 caucuses. But the first weekends in March are jammed with such events, where the 1,388 delegates to the state convention are selected.

"Super Saturdays'' is what the Franken campaign has taken to calling the conventions of March 1, 8 and 15. By the end of this weekend, when 30 conventions will be held, more than half of the state convention delegates will be seated.  Those delegates will have the task of endorsing a U.S. Senate candidate to run against Coleman. It takes 60 percent of the delegates to be in agreement for endorsement.

Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer
Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer

The state party and the campaigns say it is impossible to accurately say how the race for delegates among the three candidates is going.

The DFL says that delegates to the state convention are not elected by Senate preference, though in some cases subcaucuses at the conventions are held with delegates showing a Senate preference.  Additionally, some districts have subcaucuses that would show a Senate/congressional candidate preference, but in fact the delegate might only have a strong preference for the congressional candidate and not the Senate candidate.

Delegate numbers in Senate race fuzzy
Bottom line: The numbers typically tend to be very fuzzy. 

That said, many observers of the Senate race believe that the two big surprises of the Senate race to date are Ciresi's weakness and Nelson-Pallmeyer's strength.

Nelson-Pallmeyer pointed to a convention last weekend in Duluth — Senate District 7 — as a sign of his campaign's growing strength.

"Early in the campaign, Duluth was 100 percent Franken country,'' said Nelson-Pallmeyer.  "But at the (District 7) convention, Franken got 10 delegates, we got 10 and Ciresi got two.''

A scattering of reports from area newspapers show Franken strength in the delegate race: In Becker County, Franken won six delegates and Ciresi one; in Hubbard County, Franken won seven delegates, with Ciresi and Nelson-Pallmeyer each picking up two. In Senate District 38, the Burnsville-Eagan area, 10 delegates were committed to Franken, with one each for Nelson-Pallmeyer and Ciresi. There were five uncommitted delegates.

Of course, there are 120 other district conventions, including the 30 this weekend.  The three candidates will be attending as many of those as possible.

"Right now, the important part of the campaign is not getting on the 6 o'clock news,'' said Franken's McIntosh. "It's talking to three or four delegates.''

Dealing with rumors is also crucial.

Doug Grow, a former metro columnist for the Star Tribune, writes about public affairs, state politics and other topics. He can be reached at dgrow [at] minnpost [dot] com.

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Comments (9)

I'm Rohn Miller, and I was elected as an Obama/Franken delegate at the Senate District convention last Saturday at Washburn High School in Minneapolis.

Out of the 30 delegates elected the final tally was:

Franken - 18
Nelson-Pallmeyer - 6
Ciresi - 4
Uncommitted - 2

Joel Bergstrom, the District chair and I were two of the four elected delegates from the "Obama / Franken" sub-caucus, and there were obviously more than a dozen others.

This district--south and central Minneapolis--was a district that Jack had to carry or at least tie. The emotion, the buzz the talk throughout the auditorium last Saturday was about Al Franken, and it was proven in the results.

I'm a little surprised that the official totals aren't posted more readily, since the absence of official tallies allows the rumors to which you refer to be fanned.

I think it's pretty clear from the strong record of Al winning at the caucus and county level (yes, plus the great fund raising) that Franken will carry the nomination in Rochester, and I'm damn well going to organize and reach out to make sure that happens.

With the Republicans about to elevate Tim the Governor to the Vice Presidency, and Norm the Suit then wrapping himself in Tim's coattails, the challenge in November will be big. The key is communicating that Al represents working people throughout the state, and Norm represents, well...George W. Bush.

I hope the facts in this post give a little more clarity to where DFL's a rallying this year.

Can't wait until Rochester...

Thx-RJ

A correction to Rohn's numbers:
Franken: 18
Nelson-Pallmeyer: 6
Undecided: 4
Ciresi: 2

SD60 sends more delegates to the state convention than any other unit in the state.

This article shows exactly why the caucus system needs to be replaced with a primary. At my poorly-run caucus, which lasted well over two hours, many of the Franken supporters left before the final list of delegates was prepared. There was no election for these positions. People merely signed up for the list, and after all the delegate slots were filled, others who wanted to serve were made to sign up as alternates. The list started circulating on the Pallmeyer side of the room. In any case, many working people and people with family responsibilities are not able to attend a caucus or can't stay for an interminable process. They are disenfranchised.

In my (very large) precinct's case, it appeared that about half of the delegates will be Pallmeyer supporters. This in no way accurately reflects the opinion of my precinct, based on the number of Franken stickers I saw on people's coats.

When will the Democratic party stop wasting resources on this ridiculous process, and let the true voice of the people be heard?

There may be some good arguments against the caucus system, but stories of supposed unfairness are unconvincing to me.

If people who were at the caucus on time weren't given a fair opportunity to be delegates, all it takes is one person to move to subcaucus and another to second it. Caucus are supposed to be self run. The people in the room make the decisions on how to proceed. If you don't speak up about how something is being done, than I don't see the reason to complain.

My caucus was run very poorly too. But I suppose I should volunteer to be the convener next time then. A couple instances of undemocratic action were quickly corrected by someone calling the convener on it and the majority of the room voting to reverse it.

If the Franken supporters at a caucus were the "true" majority, then it is each and everyone of their own fault if they left early or allowed the others to sign up to be delegates first.

Thanks for the correct numbers, Kelly.

The precinct caucus system may have some flaws and messiness, but it is a wonderful example of grassroots democracy. If all we have are big primaries, we can expect that candidates will be selected by massive amounts of television advertising, annoying robo-calls, and an overwhelming amount of money. This is a rich man's game. But what about the rest of us? Where is the power of neighbors who don't have millions of dollars or own television stations?

If we ditch the precinct caucus system, we will have lost the basis of Minnesota democracy in action.

Whether anyone is "convinced" of the unfairness of the proceedings at a caucus which he did not attend is immaterial. The fact is that many people are disenfranchised simply from a caucus being held at all, and the mismanagement of the event is merely the icing of the cake. Not everyone is in a position to spend several hours on one certain evening to make their wishes known. Not everyone is able to attend district conventions on certain days. We no longer live in a society in which everyone works from 9 to 5, nor can everyone with family responsibilities afford to arrange childcare.

Why should there be so many obstacles to people choosing who the party's candidate is to be? One need only look at the Texas debacle, in which the use of a caucus in addition to a primary resulted in the candidate who lost the popular vote being given more delegates.

I hope that future candidates for state office will not pledge to abide by the party's endorsement, and will instead pledge to ignore it so that all Minnesota voters have the chance to choose the candidate they really want.

It's interesting that Ciresi's campaign only acknowledges Franken when, in fact, Ciresi also trails Nelson-Pallmeyer. Maybe Ciresi should spend a little less time tearing down Franken, since he'll still have Nelson-Pallmeyer in his way even if he succeeds in knocking Franken off.

Nelson-Pallmeyer's subcaucus sent four delegates to the state DFL convention from SD 52 in Stillwater yesterday. Ciresi's sent one. Now if the media would only give as much attention to Nelson-Pallmeyer as they do to the Ciresi-Franken pissing contest, he might be on top.

Charley Underwood, with all due respect, I have to respectfully disagree. I think caucuses rather than primaries have the effect of disenfranchising a lot of otherwise voters. Specifically exactly the kind of working people that we want to attract.

I know I had to drag myself out to go to my own caucus and was too tired from working a bazillion hours this month to stay long enough to do much good there. I did put my name in the hopper for my favored presidential candidate and met a few nice people I wouldn't have otherwise, and it was a very wonderful experience, but still.............I think we need a primary where working folks can show up, take five minutes, vote, and go home and rest.

I know a lot of folks in my neighborhood didn't go to the caucuses for just that reason..........and you can slam them for not being involved enough in the political process to want to put the time in, but these people are voters and will help determine the next President and Congress.