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Franken’s campaign veering out of control, rumors fly and Ciresi considers jumping back in the race

Al Franken: Suddenly, his campaign faces lots of problems.
Photo by Terry Gydesen
Al Franken: Suddenly, his campaign faces lots of problems.

Al Franken’s bandwagon is veering out of control as it approaches Rochester and the DFL state convention.

Franken, who only a few days ago seemed like a shoo-in to receive first or second ballot endorsement as the DFL’s candidate for the U.S. Senate, suddenly  faces all sorts of problems. He’s got to deal with the echoes of his own words,  Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer and the likelihood that even if he wins the endorsement, he’ll likely have to face a primary foe in September to determine who will be the DFL’s candidate to face incumbent Norm Coleman.

Mike Ciresi, who dropped out of the race in March when he found himself trailing both Franken and Nelson-Pallmeyer, indicated in an interview with MinnPost Thursday that he’ll likely mount a primary challenge.

Though Ciresi previously had said he’d honor the endorsement process, he said Thursday everything has changed because of the controversies surrounding things Franken had written and said years ago as a “Saturday Night Live” performer and as a “satirist” writing for such publications as Playboy.

“All options are open,” said Ciresi, who said he might even show up in Rochester for the convention, which began today but gets heated Saturday when delegates begin the endorsement process.

“It is my belief that we have to get this race back to the issues,” Ciresi continued. “It is important that Minnesota send a Democrat to Washington, but instead of talking about issues, instead of spending our energy on defeating Norm Coleman, we’re in this morass.”

Andy Barr,  Franken’s communications director, responded  by saying “we continue to take Ciresi at his word that he will respect his commitment to honor endorsement.”

Possible outcomes
There are all sorts of rumors floating around that other DFLers also are ready to leap into a primary if Franken continues to stumble.

The name of Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, a Franken supporter, keeps coming up as a possible replacement for Franken. Rybak, who is expected to be in Rochester, keeps denying he’s interested. State Sen. Tarryl Clark’s name also is floating in the DFL air. She’s been unavailable for comment.

But first things first. There are three possible outcomes when delegates start voting Saturday. 

1. Franken  wins endorsement, though even his campaign is suggesting that it may take four or more ballots for him to gain the 60 per cent of the vote needed.

2. The convention is either unwilling or unable to endorse either Franken or Nelson-Pallmeyer. It is believed that some of Ciresi’s old allies will push for the no-endorsement option on the convention floor.

3. Nelson-Pallmeyer could win endorsement, an outcome which seems to be considered least likely to happen by most DFL insiders.

It should be noted that the St. Thomas professor was in a buoyant mood Thursday.

“It’s a dead heat in delegate numbers going in,” Nelson-Pallmeyer said. “It’s a dead heat. I’m not kidding you.”

Nelson-Pallmeyer is many things. But a kidder he is not.

Even before the “issues” of Franken’s un-Senatorial words, Nelson-Pallmeyer said he was making progress with the delegates.

“There’s been this amazing transition,” Nelson-Pallmeyer said. “Three months ago, people were saying, ‘You’re the best candidate but I don’t know if you can win.’ Now, they’re saying, ‘You’re the best candidate and you have the best chance to beat Norm Coleman.”’

Republican women and McCollum
The twist to this DFL messy convention story is that it all was created by the state’s Republican Party. For months, the Republicans have been digging up stuff on Franken, starting with his workers comp and tax problems. The amount of time and money Republicans have invested in undermining Franken indicate they must believe he’s Coleman’s strongest potential opponent.

But it wasn’t until late last month that the Republicans hit with the material that’s causing Franken the most headaches. They found a “satire” he’d written for Playboy magazine in 2000. At best it was boy’s locker room stuff; at worst pornographic.

Republican women announced they were horrified.

To make matters far worse, U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum, D-Minn., said she too was disgusted by what she’d read. She also said that the DFL needs somebody stronger than Franken at the top of its ticket.

The voices have begun to echo McCollum. Sen. Amy Klobuchar has said Franken needs to apologize for some of the writings. Planned Parenthood’s Connie Perpich sent out an e-mail saying that it could be difficult for the organization’s political arm to endorse Franken.

Franken, clearly on the defensive, released a statement Thursday night “I understand and regret that people have been legitimately offended by some of the things I’ve written.”

He went on to say he would fight hard for women’s issues in the Senate which is “something Norm Coleman hasn’t done for the last six years.”

McCollum is scheduled to speak to the convention Saturday morning.

“She’s nervous about the reception she’ll receive,” said Bill Harper, her chief of staff.

But presumably a lot of other people are nervous about McCollum, too, starting with Franken because on Thursday, the Republicans held another news conference featuring “horrified” Republican elected officials.

This time their contempt stemmed from a 1995 New York magazine article, that was highly critical of the direction the television program “Saturday Night Live” had taken. In the article there was an anecdote, apparently taken from a brainstorming session among participants of the show, including Franken. The article says that Franken proposed a skit involving the drugging and raping of a nationally prominent female newscaster.  The proposed skit didn’t make the air.

But it was good for more mileage by Republicans.

“To the thousands of women in this nation who are raped and sexually assaulted, the prospect that a man who made his living joking about these things would be a United States senator must be horrifying,” said state Rep. Laura Brod at Thursday’s news conference.

Mark Drake, communications director for the Republican Party, said in a recent conversation that his party isn’t running out of material any time soon.

‘I think he’ll win’
All of this has weakened Franken. But it’s still expected he’ll eventually get endorsement sometime this weekend.

“I think he’ll win,” said Rick Stafford, a delegate who was a former state party chairman. “This isn’t like conventions where there is a big swing of uncommitted delegates. Very few of the delegates are undecided.”

Stafford agrees that Franken isn’t as strong now as he was a few weeks ago.

“I think some people are turned off,” said Stafford. “And he loses some of the character argument that he could have used against Coleman. But by November, I think Minnesotans will be far more concerned about $4 or $5 a gallon gasoline than something Al wrote eight years ago.”

And there’s another reason Stafford thinks the delegates will stick with Franken. It’s because Franken has stuck with them for more than two years. Long before he was a candidate, Franken was showing up at bean feeds across Minnesota and helping DFLers campaign in legislative races.

A story to illustrate that point.

In January, there was a special election in Northfield, Minn., called to fill a state Senate seat which traditionally had been owned by Republicans.

“He helped me every way possible,” said Kevin Dahle of Franken. “He’d have an event where there’d be a lot of people and he’d turn the stage over to me for a few minutes. He’d go door knocking with me.

“He came with me on Jan. 2,” Dahle continued. “It was zero degrees. He didn’t have to be there. But he was the most dogged door knocker I’ve ever seen.  We’d come to a door, he’d knock and you could see people were going to wave us off. ‘Get out of here!’ He’d knock again. Then, they’d see it was Al. They’d open the door.  ‘Come on in, Al.’ He was a huge help.”

Dahle won the seat. And Saturday he’ll be speaking on behalf of Franken to a room filled with people who’ve had similar experiences.

“A lot of us aren’t wavering,” said Dahle.

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 (4)

  1. Submitted by Dan Hoxworth on 06/06/2008 - 12:27 pm.

    DFL delegates face the decision of who represents them on the issues, who is the best fit with Obama as our presidential candidate, and who can win the U.S. Senate seat.

    Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer has great knowledge and judgment on the issues. He opposed the war in Iraq from the beginning of the debate. He is consistent with Obama on this issue. He is a true Minnesotan, both in terms of living in the state but also in his fortitude and character. Therefore, his candidacy and race against Senator Coleman will be like the national race–a debate about two stark contrasting sets of beliefs on the solutions to our challenges. Ultimately, Jack is a candidate who truly believes that we must change our policies and our direction of our country. Again, he is consistent with Obama.

    Ben Goldfarb’s (the campaign director for Senator Klobuchar’s successful 2006 U.S. Senate Race) endorsement of Jack (shared in yesterday’s MinnPost) points to Jack’s electability. He had three major points in his endorsement letter. They are:

    “1. Jack provides an incredibly stark contrast with Norm Coleman. Winning candidates provide a clear, compelling choice to voters. And as a challenger, it’s critically important to keep the focus on the incumbent. I believe that on pressing issues, on character and integrity, and on life experience, Jack poses the stark contrast we need and can keep this race a referendum on the incumbent. (By the way, Jack won every MPR debate over Ciresi and Franken.)

    2. Minnesotans are thoughtful voters who reward authenticity and conviction. We have a long history of supporting unconventional candidates who looked like long shots only a few months before Election Day, but were able to connect on a human level. I strongly believe that Jack’s life story, courage, and authenticity are a lock to make him the next such candidate.

    3. Jack will have the resources he needs. This remains one of only a handful of competitive Senate races in the country. Combining Jack’s strong Minnesota base of funders, a unified DFL, and a significant national interest will give him the support he needs. He won’t have the most money, but he doesn’t need to. In 2006, Mark Kennedy outspent Amy Klobuchar by nearly $1 million and lost by 20 points. Moreover, Senators Tester (MT) and Webb (VA), each emerged from June primaries in 2006 without much in the bank and had no problem raising the resources they needed to topple well-finded incumbents.”

    Jack is clearly the best candidate for the DFL, for our state and for our nation at this time. He is the right person to continue the progressive legacy established by Senator Paul Wellstone.

    I only hope that Mr. Ciresi remembers that he left the race because he was running a distant third in the caucuses and puts his energy, talent and wealth behind Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer.

  2. Submitted by Ed Nelson on 06/06/2008 - 03:29 pm.

    Love all the Feigned Outrage over Franken’s satirical piece written 8 years ago. (That’s sarcasm … similar to satire)

    Norm Coleman’s wife models for soft core pornography:
    Just do a Google images search for Laurie Coleman.

    Got to love the manufactured Republican outrage right before the convention.

    Where’s the feminist outrage over Laurie Coleman??

  3. Submitted by Randi Reitan on 06/06/2008 - 07:44 pm.

    As a couple we have grown to love Al Franken, we have felt his genuine concern for issues we hold dear and we want to thank him for all he has done to bring the important issues our state and nation face with his books, his radio show and his campaigning for other candidates over the years.

    We know Al Franken because we have attended many Democrat events. Al has worked hard for the Democrats. We are most grateful for all he has done to see good people elected time and again. No other person has campaigned more for others than Al.

    Each time we heard him speak, we knew he cared about those who were suffering and needed a voice in Washington, we felt his passion for this country and his heartfelt desire to serve it well.

    Our first real encounter with Al was just after Senator Paul Wellstone died. Al was at an event that was being held in remembrance of the Wellstones. Al shared stories of their close and dear friendship. We were moved by his words and his deep love for Sheila and Paul. That night we commented on how we wish Al would run for office.

    As we have watched Al at many events, we have felt his heartfelt concern for each person who speaks with him. Al cares deeply about the people of Minnesota. He feels the pain of those who share their concerns with him. We know he will be a Senator who works hard to make life better for those people. That is what matters in this election.

    We have watched him with his dear Franni and we have heard him speak with great love and emotion about his children. Al will work to see all families strengthened and affirmed as our Senator. That is what matters in this election.

    We have heard about his many trips to entertain our troops. Al cares deeply about our soldiers and our veterans. He will work for them in Washington. That is what matters in this election.

    We have heard Al speak about education, health care and our energy concerns. He will address the problems facing our country as our Senator. That is what matters in this election.

    We hope the Democrats endorse Al Franken at the convention in Rochester and then rally behind him with the strength of the whole party as he sets out to defeat Norm Coleman. That is what matters in this election.

  4. Submitted by Peter Vader on 06/07/2008 - 02:50 pm.

    And in the end: One ballot. I trust Rep. McCollum is more effective working for her district than as a state party machinist.

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