The Magazine

The Joke's on Al Franken

The comedian's Senate race is in deep trouble.

Sep 8, 2008, Vol. 13, No. 48 • By BARRY CASSELMAN
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Coleman leases a small one-room apartment in the basement of a Washington townhouse for $600 a month from one of his political friends, who is seen as doing the senator a favor. Still, the issue does not seem to have legs. The rent may be somewhat below market rate, but the issue only highlights that Coleman is one of the least affluent members of the Senate and that he has not enriched himself after three decades of public service, including years as state solicitor general and mayor of St. Paul.

Recent polls indicate that Franken is in deep trouble. While the race started close, Coleman now has nearly a double-digit lead. The automated-telephone Rasmussen Poll continues to show the race as tight, but the most recent poll, according to Rasmussen, indicates that Coleman is beginning to pull away. A newer MPR/Humphrey Institute poll shows the race as a draw, but overweights DFL voters and underweights independents, and is considered an outlier.

After the September primary, there will be less than two months to go. The Franken campaign has money in the bank and is undoubtedly counting on a large infusion of funds from Senator Schumer and his Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

The fact that the race between Barack Obama and John McCain in the state is now considered competitive is more bad news for Franken, who may not be able to count on the Illinois senator's coattails. There will also be an Independence party (IP) candidate in November who is likely to draw 5 percent or more of the vote. Historically, IP candidates draw significantly more votes from DFL voters than Republican voters.

The Franken campaign has new leadership and is expected to go heavily on the attack against Coleman in the closing days of the campaign. The question is whether Minnesota voters, already soured on Franken, will see these attacks as valid or as desperate.

Negative ads do work, although in "nice" Minnesota, they have their limits. Both candidates have high name recognition, and Minnesotans are paying attention to the race. But, in the end, it will likely be how voters feel about the two men, and not any campaign strategies, that determine the outcome. Franken's controversies and personality have made him the issue. Anything can happen in politics, but if Coleman and his record are not the issue, it is very difficult to see how he can be defeated in November, or even how the race can be close.

Barry Casselman writes a syndicated column for the Preludium News Service. He lives
in Minneapolis.