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.
“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.
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.