February 15, 2007

The Inimitable, Inevitable Al?

Al Franken gave his listeners an expected going-away Valentine yesterday by announcing that he would seek the Democratic nomination for Norm Coleman's Senate seat. Franken had plowed the ground for this move since the 2004 election, and spent most of last year raising money for the DFL (Minnesota's Democratic Party) in order to bolster his credentials as a serious candidate. However, even some in the DFL apparently consider the comedian a bad joke as a candidate:

As he announced his candidacy for the U.S. Senate Wednesday, Al Franken confronted the central question he may face in the early going -- whether a lifelong comic should be taken seriously.

"Minnesotans have a right to be skeptical," Franken said in a video message on his campaign website that declared his run for the U.S. Senate seat now held by Republican Norm Coleman.

"I want you to know: Nothing means more to me than making government work better for the working families of this state," Franken said. "And over the next 20 months I look forward to proving to you that I take these issues seriously."

Even for a state with a progressive streak, Franken borders on the extremist -- and not just in terms of policy. He has a nasty temper and has displayed in publicly on more than one occasion. I have related in the past that he tried to start a fistfight with Laura Ingraham's producer at the Republican National Convention in 2004, and he assaulted a protestor at a John Kerry event that same year.

Despite being a Minnesota native, he seems far too obnoxious to gain a following in this state. People here talk about Minnesota Nice, where people remain pleasant and mind their manners even when they encounter unpleasantness. Franken is the opposite, attacking his political opponents in mean-spirited, schoolyard epithets. That might sell in New York, where Franken lived most of his adult life, although he seems a little too strong even for the Big Apple, but that kind of temperament will only appeal to the most hard-core, left-wing voters in this state.

He faces a tough primary opponent in Mike Cerisi, although Cerisi has a similar private reputation as Franken for unpleasantness. Cerisi has another public reputation as the man who beat Big Tobacco in the state, winning around $7 billion in a settlement -- for which he made over $440 million in fees. That pays for a lot of campaigning in a state of 6 million people, especially since half of them live in the seven counties comprising and surrounding the Twin Cities.

Cerisi has been a player in DFL politics for a lot longer than Franken, and assuming Cerisi plays it smart and runs as a moderate, he should be able to trash Franken in the caucuses, where party endorsements are won. Franken pledged to abide by the endorsement process and not force a primary election battle if he fails to win. That plays into Cerisi's strengths as an organizer, and it seems unlikely that the DFL apparatchiks will select a foul-tempered comedian over one of the party's biggest local boosters.

Franken's announcement was inevitable, but his nomination seems far from assured. In the end, I think the DFL will think twice before hitching their wagon to an emotionally unstable extremist who would almost certainly constitute a missed opportunity to grab both Senate seats.

UPDATE: Be sure to read Scott Johnson's post yesterday about the Franken announcement.


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