Senate 2008: Al Franken Edging Closer to a Run in Minnesota?
by Jonathan Singer, Mon Dec 11, 2006 at 09:47:16 PM EST
Roll Call's Nicole Duran seems to think so:
Comedian Al Franken is waiting until next year to decide if he will run for Senate, but political watchers in Minnesota say the Gopher State native is looking more and more like a politician.
Franken moved his family and radio show back to Garrison Keillor's land of Lake Wobegon last year as a prelude to possibly challenging first-term Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.) in 2008. Speculation arose Friday that Franken might ditch his show on the ailing Air America network. He did not confirm his rumored departure - but such a move certainly would free up time for a Senate bid.
Regardless of what happens to "The Al Franken Show," rarely has there been a major event recently for the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, as the Democratic Party is known in Minnesota, without Franken making an appearance.
Franken also launched a political action committee, Midwest Values, in 2005. The PAC distributed more than $240,000 to candidates and other committees as of Oct. 18. That, combined with his trips through the political circuit and stint as an emcee for fundraisers, has helped endear him to the party faithful.
I tend to be less pessimistic about Franken's chances than many. As Duran notes, Franken would come into the race with significant political capital from the money he raised for candidates in Minnesota and around the country and would not likely have difficulty matching Coleman dollar for dollar. Franken would come in with relatively high name recognition, which carries positives and negatives though might not be as detrimental as some politics watchers think. True, Franken does have a long record from which opposition researchers could pull potentially damaging quotes. Still, alternative weekly publisher John Yarmuth did, too, but that did not stop him from defeating incumbent GOP Rep. Ann Northup in Kentucky this fall.
And Coleman is more defeatable than some would have you believe. Coleman does have a fairly sizeable warchest ($1.8 million as of September 30). But there are a number of factors that could lead for this race to be competitive almost regardless of which Democrat takes the DFL nomination.
Republicans have won statewide elections in Minnesota in recent years, most notably Tim Pawlenty narrowly winning gubernatorial elections this fall and four years ago and Coleman himself winning in an unorthodox campaign in 2002. But there are a number of trends that bode poorly for Republicans in the state even as the party plans to hold its nominating convention in the state in 2008. Democrat Amy Klobuchar walked to an easy victory in this year's senatorial contest against Rep. Mark Kennedy, who was thought of as the best potential candidate for the Republican Party, and Democrat Tim Walz defeated incumbent GOP Rep. Gil Gutknecht in a district that has a Republican lean, according to the Cook Political Report.
Looking at race-specific numbers, Coleman's rather unimpressive approval rating should be a cause of concern for Republicans as well. According to SurveyUSA polling, Coleman falls among the least popular fifth of United States Senators with an approval rating of just 48 percent and a disapproval rating of 43 percent. What's more, despite his posturing to the middle Coleman's conservatism ranks him among Senators from Idaho, Kansas and South Carolina (according to National Journal) -- states significantly to the right of Minnesota.
So even if Franken does not jump into this race in the end -- and in many ways I hope he does -- Democrats should have a good opportunity to make a go of it in Minnesota in 2008. According to Duran, Democratic Rep. Betty McCollum has decided to forgo a run at the Senate (as she did this cycle, to the consternation of some), but other Dems looking at the race include Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, "St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman (no relation to the Senator); outgoing state Senate Majority Leader Dean Johnson; state Sen. Becky Lourey; and attorney Mike Ciresi." With a plethora of credible candidates and a political enviroment that should be hospitable for the Dems, Minnesota should be among the top targets of Democrats trying to extend their majority in the United States Senate in 2008.