Al Franken is a serious comedian. He has sincere intentions to better the lives of Minnesotans. Some locals are even starting to believe this. A Rasmussen poll released last week showed Franken with a slight lead over incumbent Senator Norm Coleman, 49-46. That's good news for Franken, but he still has serious problems that he must overcome to unseat Coleman in one of the three most watched Senate races in the country.
Franken has enjoyed a reputable career as a Saturday Night Live writer and actor, authored several bestselling screeds, and hosted the flagship radio show on Air America. Though he hasn't yet received the official endorsement of the Minnesota Democratic (Farmer-Labor) Party, he probably will. The satirist's entertainment connections have earned him millions in Hollywood donations. These are not his problems.
This is: With nine months to go before the election, Franken must prove that he's credible. He has never been involved in serious civic engagements or held elected office, either in Minnesota or New York, where he lived for almost 40 years before he moved back to his home state to pursue public office. Even Franken himself has shown some uncertainty about his candidacy. In a video on YouTube announcing his candidacy, Franken admitted, "Minnesotans have a right to be skeptical about whether I'm ready for this challenge, and to wonder how seriously I would take the responsibility that I'm asking you to give me."
His opponent, Senator Norm Coleman, has represented Minnesotans in elected office since 1993. As the Democrat mayor of St. Paul in the nineties, Coleman revitalized a city that had been in the dumps. After getting fed up with the Democratic Party, Coleman was elected to the U.S. Senate as a Republican in 2002. Though he fails to toe the line on every issue important to mainstream conservatives, he has been a strong proponent of conservative values, voting to cut taxes, ban partial-birth abortion, and make health care affordable.
Franken has made a reputation for himself as a comedian with Hollywood friends and Hollywood values. A recent Star Tribune article reported that 77 percent of Franken's donations have come from outside Minnesota, with one-fourth coming from California.
Michael Malbin, executive director of the Campaign Finance Institute, told the paper that a challenger will normally "build up with a home base and then prove himself, and after the race becomes competitive then that national money starts coming....This is somebody with a national reputation building on a national reputation."
THAT'S NOT ALL to the good, because Franken has a reputation both for liberalism and nastiness. Some of his one-liners are being trotted out to prove he doesn't exactly represent Minnesotans and their good ol' fashioned values.
Not all of these are golden oldies, either. Recently, Franken earned a barrage of unfavorable local and national coverage because of his behavior at a rally at Carleton College. Conservative student Peter Fritz didn't want to be photographed with Franken, because that could be used to promote Franken's campaign. Franken responded by peppering him with questions and mocking Fritz's mannerisms and speech.
According to the Star Tribune, after the exchange Fritz "stuck out his hand to shake Franken's" and said, "Well, at least it's nice to meet you." Franken wasn't having it. "I can't say the same," he spat, and refused to shake the student's hand. Maybe for an encore, he can make fun of a legless Vietnam veteran.
Mark Drake, spokesman for the Republican Party of Minnesota, thinks Franken's Midwest-disconnect will save Coleman. "Al Franken is the most mean-spirited, polarizing person ever to run for office. A lot of the things he's said over the years may be popular in [Hollywood] circles but won't be popular to Minnesotans," he says.
Many of Franken's malicious remarks and attention-grabbing gaffes are being reported for Minnesotans to see via blogs and YouTube. While the state's mainstream newspapers have embraced his candidacy, New Media outlets have raised awareness -- even wreaked havoc -- on Franken's viability as a candidate.
Michael Brodkorb, who operates Minnesota Democrats Exposed (MDE), has meticulously documented Franken's blunders, from his statement that "Republicans are shameless dicks" to his gay jokes to his tendency to pull out of debates.
MDE has clearly gotten under Franken's thin skin. The comic has personally responded to the muckraking and his campaign has attempted to stop negative material from being posted.
Brodkorb believes that his blog is doing some good through its "presentation of the jokes that Al Franken has said about Republicans, Independent[s] and any other constituency. [Franken] has said some...over-the-top things and my blog is holding him accountable to that."
Franken may be laughing from his boost in the polls, but if he doesn't start behaving like a Minnesotan, we'll see who laughs last. Traveling the state with a chip on his shoulder and a nasty attitude on tow isn't likely to endear him to local voters who believe niceness is a virtue.
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