Franken Proves a Formidable Foe

By Jennifer Siegel

Published February 27, 2008, issue of March 07, 2008.
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If Republican Senator Norm Coleman fails to win his 2008 re-election bid in Minnesota, it seems increasingly likely it will go to another Jewish American: former “Saturday Night Live” comedian Al Franken.

Franken, the humorist turned liberal pundit, could become the fourth Jewish politician in a row to occupy the Coleman Senate seat. Since 1979, the seat has been held by Republican Rudy Boschwitz, followed by liberal Democrat Paul Wellstone and then Coleman.

Franken edged out Coleman 49% to 46% in a telephone survey conducted by independent polling firm Rasmussen Reports on February 16. The results showed significant gains for Franken, who trailed Coleman by 7 percentage points early last November, according to a similar poll conducted by Rasmussen. The margin of error for both polls was 4.5%.

For now, Franken is working to secure the Democratic nomination, and hoping to best several contenders — including his lead rival, trial attorney Mike Ciresi — at the party’s endorsement convention in June. Franken is significantly ahead in the money race, with $7.2 million raised in 2007 compared with Ciresi’s haul of $1.9 million, and has won a number of key backers, including the Service Employees International Union, which announced its endorsement February 26. One day earlier, Ciresi’s campaign announced that the attorney had recently loaned it $2 million.

Franken has led the Democratic field in recent polling — he held a wide margin over Ciresi, 32% to 17%, in a survey conducted in early February by Minnesota Public Radio and the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs — but the race could prove unpredictable, because of Minnesota’s arcane primary process. While the official primary for the Democrats, known as the Minnesota Democrat-Farmer-Labor Party, will be held in September, 1,400 party delegates will issue an official endorsement at a state convention held in June. By tradition, the endorsement is seen as binding, and both Franken and Ciresi have vowed to withdraw from the race without it.

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