Norm Coleman beat Al Franken by 571 votes in Marshall County Tuesday.
The incumbent Republican senator won in Pennington County by 642, and in Polk County by 1,431.
In Roseau County, his winning margin was 1,974 — more than eight times the slight edge he holds statewide today, going into a recount.
In the 11-county region of northwestern Minnesota, from Bemidji north and west, Coleman’s advantage was 4,526 — nearly 20 times his tentative statewide lead.
Al Torpet, a retired farmer and long active in the Polk County DFL, noted that President-elect Barack Obama did much better in the region, winning several counties that Franken lost, including Polk.
“Our township went for Obama by three votes,” he said, but some of his neighbors were troubled by Franken’s brand of humor, including writings in Playboy magazine and skits on “Saturday Night Live,” which Coleman ads hammered away at throughout the campaign.
“We’re pretty staid old Scandinavians up here,” Torpet said.
Another factor in Franken’s relative weakness in the area: Democrats lacked enthusiasm for him. Torpet said he found himself again missing the late Sen. Paul Wellstone.
“Was he the very best candidate we could come up with?” Torpet asked, referring to Franken. “He was endorsed early, and he raised money. But he did not ignite me like other candidates through the years.”
Eric Bergeson, who lives near Fertile but works with the neighboring Norman County DFL, also sensed a reluctance to embrace Franken.
“Wellstone wasn’t ‘senatorial’ either,” Bergeson said. “But he was unarguably sincere,” and that sincerity “won over the conservative DFLers in this area who were initially skeptical of his activist liberalism.”
Franken won in Beltrami, Norman, Mahnomen and Kittson counties, but his slight advantages in those districts were wiped out by Coleman’s edge in Roseau County alone, where the senator claimed 57.5 percent of the vote to Franken’s 31.7 percent. Coleman also topped 50 percent in Lake of the Woods and Clearwater counties.
Barkley got between 9 and 14.4 percent
Independence Party candidate Dean Barkley scored between 9 and 14.4 percent throughout the northwestern counties.
“Coleman has been here a lot, and people know him,” said Jeff Pelowski, who won a sixth term as mayor of the city of Roseau on Tuesday.
It helped, Pelowski said, that Coleman “was pretty visible” in the area after the city’s devastating 2001 flood, both before and after Coleman was elected in 2002.
“Franken was here (during this campaign), but I just don’t know … people here are a little more conservative than the picture Franken presented of himself,” he said.
Mike Christopherson, editor of the Crookston Daily Times, favored Franken but said that he had to fight uphill against “those for whom everything is social issues,” including marriage and abortion.
“Franken came to town and the college kids came out and there was a lot of energy, but it fizzled after a while,” Christopherson said. “Then, when the (Coleman) ads got really nasty, I think that hurt Coleman elsewhere in the state, but here I think they scored with those.”
He said his son came home from grade school one day and said a friend had told him “that Franken would kill babies.”
Also, many people in the area “just don’t think Al Franken is a funny guy,” Christopherson said. “They think his humor is gross and lewd.”
Older, more conservative voters
Rep. Bernie Lieder, a DFLer from Crookston who won a 13th term Tuesday, said that voters in northwestern Minnesota tend to be older and more conservative than in the rest of the state, but he thought Polk County voters might back Franken more because of party differences over the federal farm bill.
“It got negative,” Lieder said of the campaign. “It went too negative right off the bat, and in the end you couldn’t substantiate the charges that were being made.”
Don Osborne, a former 14-year mayor of Crookston, also thought the campaign was too negative, “and people got upset with it.” But Coleman “covered the territory better,” he said.
“I met him,” Osborne said of Franken. “I just got a feeling he should have stayed in the business he was in. I heard a lot of that in coffee talk, and I think that was the big item in our area.”
Bergeson agreed that Franken’s “abrasive sense of humor” didn’t sit well with the people of northwestern Minnesota.
“I know several Obama supporters who were very hesitant about voting for Franken,” he said. “I considered voting for Barkley.”