By this point in political campaigns, it’s often hard to tell when anger is real or a tactic.
But at times today, it seemed as if there may be real anger over a piece of campaign literature sent to Minnesota homes by the National Republican Senatorial Committee on behalf of Sen. Norm Coleman’s bid for re-election.
If nothing else, state DFLers may now have their own “Joe the Plumber” for the final days of the U.S. Senate race between DFL challenger Al Franken, the Independence Party’s Dean Barkley and Coleman, the Republican.
Dems introduce offended ‘Marcela the Mother’
Instead of “Joe the Plumber,” Minnesota has “Marcela the Mother.”
Marcela Roos, an Edina mother and teacher, lambasted the campaign piece, which was designed to look like a comic book.
“This piece of mail would offend anyone, but as a mother, I’m especially upset,” she said. “This really crosses a line — it targets our children and taunts them to open it, only to find offensive and inappropriate material inside dealing with rape and pornography. It is really amazing to me that anyone running to lead our state and our country would use a tactic as shameful as this to win some votes.”
Coleman must believe that this piece of literature has the potential to backfire.
After news of the flier first surfaced over the weekend on AMERICAblog.com, the Republican senator released to the media a long email that his campaign said was sent Sunday night to the head of the NRSC, Sen. John Ensign of Nevada.
After patting himself on the back in the email for his Oct. 10 announcement that he would cease all negative campaigning, Coleman wrote: “As the law clearly states, neither you, nor I can influence in anyway the content or subject matter of campaign material that are created by a IE [Independent Expenditure] group. That being said, the piece itself is something that simply should have never made it to the mail.”
At that point in the email, Coleman did a deft job of inserting the message of the flier in his denouncement.
“The direct mail piece, which comes in the form of something that looks like a comic book, focuses on Mr. Franken’s repeated efforts at comedy using jokes about rape, child abuse and other degrading commentary during his career.
“A piece of direct mail, dealing with this subject matter, that could be viewed as a comic book by children is something that is just not acceptable. I’m astonished that anyone would have used such poor judgement.”
He also said: “It is my hope that you will make it clear, in whatever legal means are available to you, that such direct mail is unacceptable. And, if anymore remains to be mailed, that it be collected and destroyed.”
It appears the email was done with haste, for it contains typos and wrong word choices.
Coleman campaign calls the attack piece ‘too negative’
Another indication that Coleman sees that this mailing might backfire was the fact that it was his campaign manager, Cullen Sheehan, who attended the DFL’s press conference to monitor comments, not a lower-level person in the campaign structure.
Sheehan was apologetic — sort of.
“We’re acknowledging it’s too negative, and we’re asking them to stop,” Sheehan said. “He’s done all he can do. All groups should stop the negative ads. We’re asking that the Franken campaign stop negative campaigning as well.”
Included in a press packet, handed out to reporters by the Coleman campaign, was the transcript of a radio commercial.
That ad goes like this:
Announcer: “Break out the champagne, grab those noise makers because Norm Coleman’s got some celebrating to do. Yup, a bipartisan watchdog group has named Norm Coleman the fourth most corrupt Senator in America.
Man’s Voice: “Hooray!”
“That’s the kind of stuff they’re doing all over the state,” said Sheehan.
DFLers, though, claim such ads aren’t really negative.
“They’re based on his record,” in the words of State Auditor Rebecca Otto, who, along with former Vice President Walter Mondale and U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison joined Roos in attacking the “comic book” literature.
But mostly, the DFLers and Roos were saying that the “comic book” piece crossed all taste barriers.
“It looks like a comic book,” Roos said. “It targets our children. I’ve had enough.”
Roos did not answer a question about whether she’s a DFL political activist. She did say that her 10-year-old son, “who loves comic books,” opened the ad before she had a chance to see it. She said she was so angry that she contacted the Franken campaign and agreed to appear at the news conference.
Mondale, who as a replacement to the late Sen. Paul Wellstone lost to Coleman in 2002, said that the country is facing more crises than he can ever recall.
“We’re fighting two wars, America has lost its stature in the world, we’re in a frightening financial crisis, the middle class is in trouble keeping its homes, life savings and getting health care,” he said. “We should be using this time to talk about these thing and not having to pick up this sort of trash (the comic book) at our doors.”
He lambasted Coleman, saying he’s allowing this sort of material into the campaign because “he wants to to lead us away from talking about his record to these sideshows.”
When reporters aggressively asked the DFLers if the content of the comic book was true, they responded that reporters were missing the point.
Ellison compared the ads once used by Camel cigarettes, featuring a cartoon character Joe Camel.
“Smoking cigarettes is legal for adults,” Ellison said. “But it’s wrong when those companies use cartoons to attract children to their product. … This is a cartoon designed to attract children.”
All of the DFLers, and Marcela the Mother, demanded that Coleman apologize.
The NRSC was unrepentant over the ad.
“On the record,” said Rebecca Fisher, spokeswoman for the NRSC, “the Democrat state party should be offended by Al Franken’s comments. We have been saying all along that his obscene and offensive behavior is over the line, and we appreciate the attention they are drawing to those offensive comments. Voters need to know just what they would face with a Sen. Al Franken in Minnesota.” She said she doesn’t know how many Minnesotans received the fliers.
“Our IE (independent expenditure) team sends these mailers out, so I don’t have information regarding the size of the mailing,” she said.
As they have since Oct. 10, when Coleman announced that he was going positive, the Democrats also attacked him for hypocrisy. Again Sunday, they noted that he is “running” to head the NRSC in the next election cycle.
Coleman has been vague in answering questions about that, as was Sheehan on Monday.
“That’s a conversation for after the election,” Sheehan said. “The only race he’s running now is for re-election to the U.S. Senate.”
The comic book apparently isn’t considered particularly helpful.