Campaign Crawlers

Al in a Box

Mr. Franken goes to Washington, to Florida, and pretty much everywhere else except Minnesota as a Senate seat hangs in the balance.

By 2.17.09

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As the recount trial for Senator Norm Coleman and Al Franken heads into its fourth week, a few things are becoming clear: Al Franken doesn't have the bearing of a U.S. senator -- and he may not have the votes to become one either.

On Election Day, the Minnesota Senate race was in a dead heat. After a baffling and flawed recount which showed Al Franken ahead by a mere 225 votes, Senator Coleman and his team of legal experts brought the case to court. The Coleman camp must prove there were errors during the recount process. Franken must prove Coleman agreed to the vote-counting procedures during the recount and now must live with the consequences. Almost every day, the Coleman team makes progress in showing Franken may have declared victory too soon. On February 5, Anoka Country announced it discovered ballots that had never even been counted. Last week, a Dakota county official testified some absentee ballots were wrongly rejected. The list goes on.

One would think, given the progress of the trial, Franken would start acting more like a senator, not less, if only to look good in front of his would-be constituents. No such luck. When it appeared he was the winner, the eager comedian declared victory but took no questions from reporters. This disappearance from the media might have made more sense coming from Coleman, the apparent loser. Coming from the man who claimed to be senator-elect, it was inexplicable.

Franken jetted to Florida to enjoy a two-week vacation amid the sun and turf, while Minnesotans endured yet another biting cold winter. Perhaps Franken will start a new trend -- "Snowbirds for Senate" -- and he and other Democratic senators from the chilly Midwest can draw up bills and communicate with their constituents from West Palm Beach.

Yet Franken may be starting to feel the chill from his erstwhile allies in the local media. Esme Murphy, a reporter for the news channel WCCO and no right-winger, seemed genuinely annoyed he was blowing her and her colleagues off. She blogged she was "desperately seeking Al" and complained that he was soaking in the sun while people like her "have been freezing their butts off." She demanded, tongue in cheek: "I want to know, Al, what you are thinking. Norm Coleman has been around attending the trial, giving his opinions on anything people have asked him. I know because Coleman has gotten quite a bit of flak over an interview he did with me on Sunday. But at least he is out there, and I do think at this critical time people want to hear from the person who could be our next senator."

Maybe the media blackout is intentional, even as the election result hangs in limbo. Murphy asked one of Franken's staffers if they could sit down for a post-election chat. The staffer replied, "I think we are going to be putting Al back in the box for now."

The staffer's remark is as telling as it is humorous. Coleman for Senate spokesman Mark Drake thinks Franken's inaccessibility reflects the Democrat's indifference as much as a conscious strategy. After all, he has a tendency to be caught on tape behaving inappropriately. "Team Franken is obviously very concerned about how he is going to come across or what he's going to say. That's why they're keeping him 'in the box.'"

Though Murphy later added an update that Franken had given two interviews in the last week and a half, they were interviews with local Minnesota press in Washington, D.C. while Franken attended the inauguration. Not local interviews in Minnesota, where he would be in full view of his beloved constituents.

This is in stark contrast to Senator Coleman. Since the election, recount, and during the trial, he has been accessible and visible; he has granted interviews and attended the trial. In other words, he has behaved like someone running for the U.S. Senate -- and with the deportment of someone who would serve there.

In an interview with local political reporter, Tom Hauser, Coleman said, "Bottom line, let's count every validly cast vote. Figure out who the winner is, if it's me I go back to work, if it's Al Franken, he becomes a senator. I think Minnesotans deserve to get it right, I think we need to get it right."

Unfortunately, Al Franken doesn't see the need to get it right before a winner is crowned. Despite a full trial proceeding going on testing the results of the recount he thinks he won, he had the audacity to ask the Minnesota court to put him in the Senate before the outcome of the trial was determined -- while getting a tan in Florida. His request was dismissed, but not before another round of raspberries from the press.

Still, as of this writing, Franken has not attended the trial and mentioned in an interview last week that he "occasionally checks an online trial feed supplied by the UpTake [a liberal citizens news blog in Minnesota]" and finds it "entertaining."

The only comic relief everyone may find is the result of this trial, which may still turn in Coleman's favor. If it doesn't, Minnesotans may tire of a senator who is more interested in entertainment than statesmanship.

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About the Author

Nicole Russell writes from Northern Virginia.