Political Hay

Filibuster-Proof Franken

A Saturday Night Live Democrat stalks Norm Coleman in Minnesota.

By 10.16.08

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As a quiet, melancholy score fills the background, an older couple sit arm-in-arm on their living room couch. Mrs. Anderson, silver-haired and soft-spoken, clenches a tissue, dabs her nose and describes the day she learned their son, Major Stuart M. Anderson, was killed in a Black Hawk helicopter crash. Obviously grieving, she declares: “I don’t blame the Army for our son’s death; I just blame the bad policies on President Bush and Norm Coleman who voted for this.” As a close-up of Major Anderson’s dog tags fade into the background, Mr. Anderson says firmly, “He’s just gotta go; he’s just gotta go.”

The “he” in the television ad is Republican senior Senator Norm Coleman, who voted for the Iraq war. This is one of the many ads put out by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) on behalf of Al Franken, former Saturday Night Live writer running for Senate in Minnesota. Incidentally, the DSCC is run by Senator Chuck Schumer, who supported the Iraq war in the beginning just like Franken. While the goal of a political campaign is persuasion, an ad that places the blame for a soldier’s death squarely on a politician’s shoulders sinks to a new low.

During this last year, Franken has consistently trailed Coleman, sometimes by as much as ten points. But according to a poll last week by Minnesota Public Radio and the Humphrey Institute, Franken has jumped from behind and is now ahead of Coleman by four percentage points. Since Franken’s lead is within the margin of error, the two candidates are statistically tied. Likewise, a Rasmussen Reports poll shows Franken leading Coleman, 43-37% and with the independent candidate, Dean Barkley, receiving 17%.

This gradual change, just weeks before Election Day, could be attributed to the increased amount of sniping by both campaigns. The Coleman campaign has repeatedly hammered Franken on his off-color comedic routines, lack of credibility, angry persona (even caught on tape) and trouble with paying taxes. The Franken campaign has hit back, charging Coleman with being a "yes man" to President Bush and doing little good for Minnesotans since he took office.

 

HOWEVER, THE TIGHTENING polls could also be attributed to some help Franken has received outside Minnesota -- in dollars and cents -- that is finally paying off in real percentage points. Even though Minnesota boasts some Republican office-holders, its voters lean Democratic (hello, Walter Mondale). Couple that with the DSCC’s chance to elect its very own comedian to the Senate, and this is one of their most-targeted Senate races in the country. A quick glance at its blog shows the purported follies of the Coleman campaign and the attributes of the comedian candidate are discussed regularly -- and at least recently -- the race has been singled out more than any other Senate race.

Even more convincing are the financial numbers collected by interest groups observing the races. As of mid-September, the DSCC planned to spend $5.5 million in Minnesota on ads. Though purchasing ads in Minnesota is more expensive than others and this race is very tight, this number only trails the amount they plan to spend in North Carolina (a state with more electoral votes) and New Hampshire.

Franken has so far outspent Coleman on advertising. The Democratic challenger has, according to the FEC, received a total of $12.7M in contributions to Coleman’s $11.6 as of Aug. 20. A couple weeks ago, Politico reported what most Minnesotans already knew: Franken has received more money from donors in California (including stars like Tom Hanks and Steve Martin) than Minnesota, and over $500,000 of his campaign money has come from Hollywood insiders -- some of which has been no doubt used to hire insiders from Washington.

The Democrats' strategy is showing signs of success. Besides electing Barack Obama, they have set a lofty goal of achieving a so-called “filibuster majority” -- 60 Democrats total -- nine more than they have now—in the Senate. They hope Al Franken will be that 60th vote. Last week, CQ Politics changed its ratings on four tight Senate races held by Republicans. Based on staff reporting, CQ Politics said, Minnesota was changed from its earlier rating, “Leans Republican,” to “No Clear Favorite.”

The idea of a comedian running for senator seemed like a joke at first. But the filibuster-proof majority a Franken win could hand the Democrats would be no laughing matter.

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About the Author

Nicole Russell writes from Northern Virginia.