Al Franken will soon end more than a year of speculation by officially announcing his 2008 candidacy decision for the U.S. Senate on February 14th. As Franken is a ‘non traditional’ candidate—being an actor, comedian, and a satirist far less subtle than Mark Twain—the media is already comparing his potential candidacy to that of the last prominent non-traditional candidate to emerge in Minnesota—former Governor Jesse Ventura.
But Franken’s aim to unseat Republican Norm Coleman is likely to be much tougher than Ventura’s upset victory in Election 1998.
First of all, Franken will likely have a crowded field to win his party’s nomination. While it is unknown who will take him on, former Attorney General Mike Hatch, Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, and 2000 Senate candidate Mike Ciresi are some of the establishment DFL-ers that could comprise that pool of candidates. As much as the DFL would like to take back this Senate seat, it is questionable whether the DFL would endorse a political novice at their 2008 Convention over one of these experienced politicians.
Secondly, Ventura—despite sidestepping political correctness at every turn—was in most ways a political moderate, whose ‘common sense’ approach to politics appealed not only to independents, but also to the less rabid wings of the DFL and GOP parties in the state. Franken, perhaps deservedly, perhaps not, has earned a reputation of being a “Hollywood Liberal”—so his platform is likely to perceived to be a good deal to the left than the views held by the average Minnesotan.
Thirdly, if Franken could win the DFL nomination, he will have to do one more thing Ventura did not—unseat an incumbent. Ventura ran to fill Arne Carlson’s open seat, while Franken will be trying to take down a 1-term Senator. Coleman has not endeared himself to all Minnesotans, but he is not unpopular, with job approval ratings hovering between the high 40s and mid 50s throughout most of his term. Moreover, unless a right-of-center third party candidate emerges for this seat, there would be no opposition to split the conservative vote with Coleman.
It would certainly be a noteworthy chapter in Minnesota politics if Franken could win this seat, for that would mean Norm Coleman—a very experienced politician—would have lost to both a former actor and professional wrestler (Ventura in 1998) and an actor and comedian (Franken) ten years apart. Franken has proven he can raise money (his PAC raised almost $1,000,000 in 2006), but the Republican Party will no doubt see to it that Coleman is flush throughout his campaign.