As Norm Coleman’s campaign continues to fight with Al Franken for every vote (and seemingly every procedural move) in the highly watched Senate race recount, his DFL colleague Amy Klobuchar remains the most popular figure in Minnesota politics.

Prior to his 15+ round heavyweight fight with Franken, Senator Coleman too was a reasonably popular figure in Minnesota politics, boasting favorability ratings in the mid-50s as late as April of this year. Those ratings would plummet by the end of the campaign to the low-40s after several fierce debates and a controversial advertising campaign. Coleman’s job approval ratings also sunk, from the low 50s in April down to the high 30s by the end of the campaign in October.

Since Election Day, his early declaration of victory aside, Coleman has tried to distance himself from the controversies surrounding the recount (leaving that to his campaign and attorneys), by continuing to cast key votes on Capitol Hill. (Should Coleman get re-elected, he does not want his approval or favorability numbers to have sunk even further).

Klobuchar, however, has enjoyed what looks on the surface to be a two-year honeymoon period: the junior Senator’s approval ratings have ranged in the high 50s to mid-60s in sixteen consecutive polls dating back to July 2007 through October of this year. Klobuchar’s disapproval rating has yet to reach 40 percent in her tenure in D.C.

Klobuchar has some inherent advantages over Coleman that would tend to make her more popular in the Gopher State, not the least of which is that the state tilts blue – although that is only probably good for a few points. Klobuchar’s perennially sunny disposition (and a smile that appears much more natural than Coleman’s) is the embodiment of Minnesota Nice, which might also be good for a few more points.

But if one examines each Senator’s voting record, Coleman has been vastly more bipartisan than Klobuchar – something that Minnesotans should tend to reward, with the high percentage (30+ percent) of independents in the state. When Klobuchar was running for her Senate seat in 2006, a poll conducted by Rasmussen two months before the election found only 42 percent of Minnesotans viewed Klobuchar as having a liberal political ideology (a near equal amount, 37 percent, viewed her as a moderate). According to Congressional Quarterly, however, Coleman has broken with his party leadership more than most Senators in D.C. (at 21 percent), and at a far greater clip than Klobuchar (7 percent); still, the same Rasmussen poll found a greater percentage of Minnesotans viewed Coleman as conservative (46 percent) than Klobuchar as liberal. Perhaps those numbers will change in future polls now that Klobuchar has a concrete voting record in Congress.

Should Coleman emerge victorious in his political (and legal) battles with Franken, despite his history of bipartisanship, the Senator will undoubtedly be viewed as more partisan and less favorable than Klobuchar as well much more negative than he was before the 2008 campaign heated up last spring. (Coleman’s unfavorability numbers still exceed 50 percent, according to a December 4th Rasmussen poll).

With dozens of millions of dollars spent on the U.S. Senate race to date, Coleman hasn’t been able to afford to play Minnesota Nice, and that legacy, unfortunately for the Senator, may ultimately overshadow his own bipartisan voting record – at least in the near future.


  1. Dan Conner on December 15, 2008 at 10:12 am

    I think this article misses the resurrection of two events hurting Senator Coleman. One, getting an upscale Washington apartment from a political friend, far below market value and including utilities, and Two, $75,000 illegally sent under the table, from another political friend, to help with the $414,000 remodeling of his home.

    These incidents show very serious lapses of judgment when “pay-to-play”, quid-pro-quo, and political favors trump his legal responsibility to the people of Minnesota. If Coleman is found guilty of these crimes, he should be entitled to have his rent reduced even more at the “graybar hotel.”

  2. Eric Ostermeier on December 15, 2008 at 10:31 am

    > I think this article misses the resurrection of two events hurting
    > Senator Coleman.

    On the flip side, Klobuchar benefited from a blow-out victory in 2006 and was therefore able to emerge from her campaign with an image that was rather unscathed. Although, one might argue her positive, ‘Minnesota Nice’ image contributed to that blowout margin.

  3. joseph grimme on December 15, 2008 at 11:55 am

    Klob trundles into the Senate on her name, the populist images of an Iron Range heritage Minnesotans keep in the present mythology. Of course, she has real experience as Attorney General, ‘tough on crime,’ (Is anyone soft on crime?), a product of DFL machinery. What in her background makes her ready? The history eludes me, after years of eager consumption of DFL filtered news.

    Mr Coleman, on the other hand, has worked a bit harder. He has a record of entering the fray and winning. His story is more compelling. Yet, what has the DFL filter told us of his work higher up? Nothing but “…9X% in line with BUSH…”

    He was just wonderful stuff in St Paul as a Democrat. Switch parties, stay on message, and keep working: Minnesotan’s don’t like the product as much. Just curious, but writing about “SMART” politics dotes on smiles and cultural name tags that are demonstrable baloney (Mn Nice is a trite, dull claim that hides a bigotry just as cold as any other).

    I challenge this blogger to reach further into their ambitions for us, the consumers, to teach us from the facts instead of sophmoric stuff about smiles. Klobuchar’s smile is just as practiced and phony as any other I’ve seen. For the political class, I liken their toothy distractions to the famous line from a TV show of the past: “I’ve learned that behind every smile is a row of very sharp teeth…”

    Now, where’d that dental plan of mine go…

  4. Eric Ostermeier on December 15, 2008 at 12:11 pm

    > I challenge this blogger to reach further into their ambitions for
    > us, the consumers, to teach us from the facts instead of
    > sophmoric stuff about smiles. Klobuchar’s smile is just as
    > practiced and phony as any other I’ve seen.

    I’ve seen both Senators speak several times, and let’s just say there is a big difference in how each walks into a room and the effect they have on the audience (whether the disposition, at its core, is contrived in either case). These (somewhat subjective) comments about ‘sunniness’ and other character traits are undeniably actual components in determining an officeholder’s constituent favorability rating. And Klobuchar’s is trouncing Coleman’s at this point in time.

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