Nonprofit, nonpartisan journalism. Supported by readers.


Four-hour momentum swing boosts Franken to first-ballot DFL endorsement

ROCHESTER, MINN. — What a difference a few hours can make.
Saturday morning, virtually everyone at the DFL state convention here thought it would take multiple ballots before either Al Franken or Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer would win endorsement for the U.S. Senate race.  Many were even speculating that if it got to four ballots, Nelson-Pallmeyer could win.

But at 1:15 p.m., the first ballot was held. There wouldn’t be a second.

Franken, who was supposed to be damaged goods, won 62 percent of the delegate support. And that was it.

He is the DFL’s endorsed candidate for the U.S. Senate and, barring some increasingly unlikely primary challenge, will face the Republican’s endorsed candidate, incumbent Norm Coleman, in November.

A major momentum turn-around
What happened between 9 a.m. and 1:15 that turned what was supposed to be a close race into a slam dunk?

Was it Franken’s seemingly genuine apology to the delegates for writings in such publications as Playboy?

“It kills me that things I said and wrote sent a message to some of my friends in this room and people in this state that they can’t count on me to be a champion for women, a champion for all Minnesotans,” Franken said in a speech before the first ballot. “. . . .I’m sorry for that, because that’s not who I am. . . . For 35 years, I was a writer. I wrote a lot of jokes. Some of them weren’t funny. Some of them were inappropriate. Some of them were downright offensive.”

He made no effort to describe the work of a “satirist.” He simply apologized.

He received huge applause.

Even U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum, a 4th District Democrat who had suggested a week ago that some of Franken’s work was so horrid that he’d hurt all DFLers if he was the party’s Senate nominee,  seemed mildly impressed by the apology.

“It was a start,” she said.

It should be noted that McCollum was booed by many of the delegates when she was introduced Saturday.  It also should be noted that prior to his apology, Franken had won the endorsement of the DFL Feminist Caucus, or at least its board. There are rumors that the endorsement has miffed many in the caucus.

Winning factors include apology, labor, early commitments
But there was more than an apology at play in Franken’s win.

Labor was firmly with Franken, always an important factor in a DFL convention. There were some unions that hadn’t even bothered to let Nelson-Pallmeyer screen for endorsement.

In some respects, that’s understandable. The screenings were done — and Franken was winning endorsements — months ago, when Nelson-Pallmeyer was being taken seriously only by a few of his diehard supporters.

Both Nelson-Pallmeyer and his floor manager, Erik Peterson, think that the morning belief that there it would be multiple ballots to produce a nominee might have proved fatal to their hopes of pulling off an upset victory.

Many convention delegates, they said, had come out of caucuses and sub-caucuses committed to Franken.

“So many people told me they would vote for Al on the first ballot because they felt they had to honor that commitment,” Nelson-Pallmeyer said. “But they said with the second ballot they would vote their conscience and vote for me.”

There surely were other factors as well.

Franken, in both an hour-long question-and-answer session and in his speech, was at his best. That’s still not as good as Nelson-Pallmeyer. But it meant that Nelson-Pallmeyer didn’t overwhelm Franken, as he has in some debates and forums.

Whatever the reason, Franken’s victory was total and complete.

“A very good day,” said Franken, who looked both drained and relieved.

It was so complete that it may have closed the door on any possible primary challenge from former candidate Mike Ciresi, or any other DFLer who might have thought Franken would be beatable. Ciresi was not available for comment.

“I think this closes down any chance of a primary,” said former party chairman Rick Stafford, a Franken delegate at this convention. “The only thing that could change that is if more things come out that open the window again.”

Republicans at the convention were disappointed that Franken won so swiftly and a primary fight now seems less likely. Still, they promised there will be more unsavory linen coming out of the Franken closet.

In fact, Ron Carey, the Republican chairman, and Mark Drake, its communications director, who attended the DFL convention, were laughing at the start of the day.

“Mark is doing our research,” said Carey. “Sometimes, I don’t think we should even be paying him he’s having such a good time. We hear laughter coming out of his office and say to each other, ‘Guess Mark found out something more on Franken.’ ”

“He’s  a researcher’s dream,” said Drake.

For his part, Franken said he hopes that the apology he offered in his convention speech will put an end to issues about his work history.

“The media has a role to play in this,” Franken said. “The media has a responsibility to concentrate on the issues that matter to Minnesotans.”

But at least some delegates left the convention thinking that Franken’s writings won’t easily be forgotten in many areas of Minnesota.

“There’s too much baggage with this guy,” said former state Rep. Ted Winter, a farmer from Fulda. “Rural people are sensitive to that kind of stuff.”

But Franken and his supporters say the issues that matter to Minnesotans will be things like $4-a-gallon gasoline, not old Playboys.

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.

Comments (14)

  1. Submitted by Peters Peters on 06/07/2008 - 11:04 pm.


    I have to disagree with you about your assessment of Franken vs. Nelson-Pallmeyer. I have never seen Nelson-Pallmeyer outshine Franken. And today again at the convention (which you seemed to agree with) Franken outshined Nelson-Pallmeyer. He was responsive when Nelson-Pallmeyer was obtuse, he was generous and real. I have repeatedly been impressed by Franken in large and small settings. While Nelson-Pallmeyer is a decent man of good heart, his oratorical skills lack clarity and power and he lacks the political acumen to play in one of the most political forums in the world: the U.S. Senate. I think Franken can take anything the Republicans throw at him and will be a true asset to Minnesota in Washington. And Norm Coleman better be careful. People in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.

  2. Submitted by Greg Schlichter on 06/08/2008 - 11:27 pm.

    Gail O’Hare you are full of hooey. Just the opposite is true with regards to Al Franken. Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer would have been cast as an ultra-liberal-communist by Slimy Norm’s minions and led to slaughter…sorry, but N-P is exactly more of what you suggest of DFLers picking candidates that are too inbred. With Franken, it’s on the table. By and large most Minnesotans can see a smear job for what it is worth. It only highlights the dishonesty of the stone casters. Norm Coleman has way too many real-life peccadilloes to worry about. That makes for what is known as a striking contrast.

  3. Submitted by Gail O'Hare on 06/07/2008 - 11:20 pm.

    I wish Franken had done a better job of vetting himself and coming clean months ago. He would still have been the endorsed candidate, but we wouldn’t now be marching into the slavering jaws of the Republican moral inquisitors. We’d have dealt with this mess and gone forward.

    To be honest, I don’t know if I want a Frankin sticker on my car next to Obama’s. I don’t know if I want his sign in my yard next to Obama’s. Al owes us more than his apology at the convention: he owes us a way to defend this that goes further than “I’m sorry.”

    The SNL brainstorming that came up with rape as an amusing skit is much more grave than the Playboy piece. We can discount the Playboy piece. In 2000, our beloved Wellstone held this Senate seat and would have won in ’02. 9/11 hadn’t happened and no one knew just how dreadful Bush would turn out to be. So Franken continued his outrageous humor with no thought of having to explain it in a race for public office. We have half a dozen comedy clubs in the Cities where raunchy humor is standard. Cable TV offers a lot more. We could overcome objections to Al’s humor. But the ’95 SNL bit is far more damning. We need to know what he was thinking. We need to know there’s nothing more than this waiting to be dragged out by Ron Carey.

  4. Submitted by Greg Schlichter on 06/08/2008 - 11:11 pm.

    Doug Grow’s DFL convention coverage here was far and away the best I’ve seen. Unlike the Strib or Pioneer Press, he caught the floor’s groans and boos for Betty McCollum. It’s unfathomable to me how the other media outlets missed this. It was plain, and not subtle. A clear message to Betty to knock off her grandstanding and unwarranted hostility to Al Franken. She appeared stunned and slackjawed at the reception. Her bobo, Rep. Ellison, tried fervently three times to exhort a warmer welcome from the delegates, to no avail. Kudos to Grow. About Scary Carey and the rest of his panting packdogs: Abe Lincoln said, “the shade of the tree is not the tree. The tree is the real thing.” A joke is just a joke, a vote in the senate is a record. I hope the media does not get distracted by Coleman’s disingenuous magpies.

  5. Submitted by George Hayduke on 06/09/2008 - 10:00 am.

    Franken’s only got that much baggage if rubes and prudes like Betty McCollum and Ted Winter keep carrying water for the GOP. Winter should stay on the farm, and McCollum should be sent back to her department store clerk job at the next opportunity. And she needs to move out of her glass house if she wants to throw stones.

  6. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 06/08/2008 - 02:03 pm.

    I strongly disagree with some of the delegates you cite and with commenter Kaye Peters. Last fall, I heard all three at a large debate in Minneapolis and Franken and Nelson-Pallmeyer at a TakeAction Minnesota candidates forum. Franken lost BIG TIME at both events. His speech was halting and he was nowhere near as articulate as his opponents. Since at least last December, Franken has refused to schedule any debates (he felt he didn’t “need to” is what I heard) except for an occasional radio appearance. This left his opponent(s) to seek out house-party hosts and smaller speaking venues in an attempt to become better known.

    Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer’s positions on issues important to Dems and to Minnesota are clear, not “obtuse” as Ms. Peters says. Where Franken SAYS he supports universal health care, he means to have the 50 states act as “laboratories” to try out different methods. When Jack says he supports universal health care, he means single-payer tax-supported health care – Medicare for all – like the system most other countries use to great advantage.

    I suspect Franken has taken some speaking lessons or did a lot of practicing before Saturday. Good, because it may be extremely difficult to attract any cross-over votes from conservatives who agree that Norm Must Go but feel they cannot support Franken.

  7. Submitted by Jon Miners on 06/08/2008 - 03:32 pm.

    I think Franken is damaged goods, and whether or not he makes it all the way to November depends pretty much on what the Republicans manage to come up with. Nothing is certain at this point.

  8. Submitted by Jon Miners on 06/08/2008 - 03:33 pm.

    “But Franken and his supporters say the issues that matter to Minnesotans will be things like $4-a-gallon gasoline, not old Playboys.”

    Neither Franken nor his supporters get to decide which issues matter.

  9. Submitted by Dan Hoxworth on 06/08/2008 - 03:15 pm.

    I appreciate Doug’s insightful analysis and agree with Ben and his analysis. Jack took every debate on MPR and has a strong command of the issues. Franken needed his best performance on Saturday and he gave it when it mattered.

    Having been at the convention Friday and talked to many delegates, a transformation did occur on Saturday morning before the vote. Jack had a lot of momentum before that. Perhaps the biggest factor that concerned me and delegates was the “No Endorsement” effort that appeared on Friday night. Past Ciresi supporters were handing out “No endorsement” stickers and pushing for this to open up the race again for Ciresi to enter into a primary battle. Both Franken and Jack supporters and their candidates were clear that they wanted an endorsement.

    My hypothesis is that the “No endorsement” effort backfired on Ciresi and his supporters. Wobbly Franken supporters worried about this possibility chose to stay with Franken rather than move to Jack to avoid a “no endorsement” result. Thus, their efforts solidified support around Franken. Leaving Jack and his supporters to wonder what might have been if Jack had survived the first ballot. In addition, the first ballot election of Franken would seemingly mean that the door has closed on any legitimacy to a primary challenge from Ciresi who pledged to abide by the DFL endorsement process. Thus, “No endorsement” led to an endorsement.

  10. Submitted by Gail O'Hare on 06/08/2008 - 07:59 pm.

    I’m afraid the party is doing what it has done too well in the past: DFL insiders think of themselves instead of the state as a whole, and they stubbornly endorse a losing candidate. I’m sorry, but as an outsider just listening to MPR, I was surprised by how uninspiring Franken was as a speaker.

    This seat should have been child’s play to take back. Now we risk losing it as well as tipping the state to McCain. My guess is a lot of serious Democrats are thinking about a primary challenge, and Ventura is itching to jump into the fray – this is a mess.

  11. Submitted by Steve Marchese on 06/09/2008 - 09:05 am.

    I hate to say this, but I think the DFL delegates have handed us another flawed candidate to rally around. I like Franken and think he will be a better candidate than Nelson-Pallmeyer by light years. He’s smart, tough and articulate. However, someone should have vetted his past much more thoroughly before we got this far. We don’t need a campaign focused on the intricacies of Franken’s past instead of Coleman’s complicity in the national mess of the Bush Administration. But I am sure what is in Franken’s past is far more titillating than Coleman’s straight up support for the president’s agenda. You can complain about the media, but the real question is will it play in Eden Prairie (or Blaine or Hibbing or Lakeville)?

    The delegates may have forgiven Franken his past misdeeds this weekend, but I am not at all clear that the folks back home will do so. In a year like this, with a tail wind behind every Democrat, this seat should flip. Why nominate someone with so much baggage?

  12. Submitted by Jeff Strate on 06/09/2008 - 11:29 am.

    Mr. Grow and commentators,
    I was an alternate delegate to the DFL Convention in Rochester and will be enthusiastically voting in November for Al Franken. I’ve met Al and Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer 5 or 6 times during the past year, done the research, read the websites and blogs and seen both men speak in front of large and small conventions. Al won the DFL endorsement on Saturday but it is clear that the resonate voice of the future of progressive politics in Minnesota is Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer. Jack, not Al Franken or Amy Klobuchar, holds the torch that in decades past was carried by Paul Wellstone and Hubert Humphry.

    That torch will remain here in Minnesota. Positive, practical change in times of growing crises in health care, global warming, energy, media consolidation and security need broad-based, grassroots support which can deleiver its message to our elected leaders. I am hoping that Jack and his supporters remain organized around progressive issues of national and local concern and urgency. I am hoping hat they figure out a way to effectively bring their perspectives to Minnesota’s Congressional delegation and the nation at large.

    Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer was just a few delegate votes shy of forcing a second and possibly a third and fourth vote for DFL endorsement. His stirring message of hope and practical politics, in my mind, won the hearts at the convention. It is to his great credit, that he kept DFLers together. As Jack asserted during his campaign, it is not about Jack or Al or Norm, it is about people, about issues and about a movement.

  13. Submitted by Greg Schlichter on 06/09/2008 - 08:54 pm.

    Jeff, N-P seems like a very sweet fellow. But before you anoint him as some kind of torch carrier, it would be nice to see him win one election. He’s 0-2 and counting.

  14. Submitted by Grace Kelly on 06/18/2008 - 05:22 pm.

    Well reported article.

    As to Greg Schlichter’s comment of JNP being 0-2, remember Al is 0-0, so that argument dies. Also, if you counted dollars spent per vote, JNP way outshines Al.

Leave a Reply