Al Franken could still win. After all, he is running in Minnesota, where volatility in the electorate has delivered us many surprises on election night in the past. And despite Franken’s problems, there is still the possibility for him to turn his campaign around in the next three months. Here are some key elements that would have to come together.
His new team must make major changes in campaign strategy and the candidate’s own authenticity on policy issues, political tactics and his own personal history.
A month ago, veteran political operative Stephanie Schriock was named campaign manager; she has since added Eric Schultz as deputy campaign manager.
Full disclosure: 12 years ago in her first race, Schriock worked for me on the Mary Rieder for Congress campaign as finance director. Since then she has had something of a rapid rise as one of the most well thought of strategists and fundraisers for Democrats in the country.
Most notably, and applicable to her new role, was her position as finance director for Howard Dean in 2004. Before “the scream,” Dean raised piles of money over the Internet. That fundraising was the brainchild of Schriock and Joe Trippi.
Schriock and Schultz are nationally recognized pros, and can use their experience to better prepare and execute a plan that can win. That could be a challenge among what has been characterized by many as a staff that is too young and too close to Franken to be critical of him or confront issues that the campaign clearly needed to confront, such as his writings and comments as a satirist.
Impressive list of donors
On fundraising, Franken has over 100,000 donors. That’s impressive. If the campaign can begin to turn them into auto-pay contributors or web donors, like Barack Obama has done, he could get momentum without spending money on phones and direct mail to raise funds.
The major issue that seems to be holding back Franken as a candidate is his insistence on acting like a traditional candidate. He isn’t traditional, and he seems uncomfortable being serious all the time. That’s natural, he’s been funny (at times) most of his life.
That is where Schriock can draw from her past work for authentic candidates. In addition to Dean, in 2006 she managed Jon Tester’s successful upset of Republican Sen. Conrad Burns in Montana. If she can tap some authenticity from Franken that can resonate with voters, Franken could begin to make up ground on Coleman. His latest ad could be a start.
Authenticity is a major plus in today’s successful candidates and it is a place where Franken could edge out Coleman.
But the most important thing Franken’s campaign has to do is to make Coleman react. So far, the only things that Coleman has had to react to were the National Journal reports about missing a few rent payments and Sen. Ted Steven’s donations. The Franken campaign should be trying to make Coleman react every day.
There are some insights for Franken from the latest Quinnipiac/Wall Street Journal poll that shows him trailing Coleman by 15 points. According to the poll, the top issues for Minnesotans are the economy, Iraq and health care. These are three issues that Democrats across the country are winning on, and issues Franken could win on if he is authentic and well-informed on the details of the issues.
The other is energy policy: In Minnesota, 61 percent of poll respondents said they support investment in renewable energy vs. 31 percent who support gas/coal/nuclear. And when having to choose, 56 say that renewable energy should be the top energy priority. They also trust the Democrats’ plans more on a generic basis. Franken should be driving this home daily.
The Bush connection
Franken is trying, but he isn’t doing it in a way that contrasts himself with Coleman and Bush. And his ideas are just party-line thinking, not out-of-the box bold initiatives we would expect from a non-traditional candidate.
While Coleman has credibility on renewable fuels and energy, Franken should be able to make up ground with bigger, bolder policies or head on attacks of Coleman’s closeness to the Bush administration.
Finally, you can see in Franken’s latest ad Coleman’s biggest liability – President George W. Bush, who only has a 28 percent favorable rating. Franken’s team needs to exploit Coleman’s closeness to Bush. Here’s a hint: Remember the Dick Cheney phone call urging now Gov. Tim Pawlenty out of the Senate race and all the “pro-Bush” quotes from Coleman’s first year or so in office?
Franken’s campaign is definitely a long shot, but it’s not a lost cause. Yet. If Franken can raise money more cost-effectively, make Coleman react and become more authentic to voters, he could still pull it out. Maybe.