Franken facing six foes in Democratic Senate primaryComedian-turned-candidate focusing on general election
By: Scott Wente, Worthington Daily Globe
ST. PAUL — The biggest name on next month’s Democratic U.S. Senate primary ballot is ignoring the contest.
Al Franken responds to all questions about the primary race by instead talking about the support he is gaining as he looks toward a general election contest against Republican Sen. Norm Coleman.
But there are six others running in the Democratic primary for the same shot, and Franken’s leading opponent, Twin Cities attorney Priscilla Lord Faris, said she’s running to spare Franken from an onslaught of Republican attacks this fall and to give her party a chance at recapturing the Senate seat.
“If I thought he could beat Norm Coleman, I wouldn’t be in this,” Faris said. “I want that Paul Wellstone seat back, and if (Franken) can get the Wellstone seat back, great, but what the facts have shown us is that it does not look like a high likelihood.”
Coleman won the seat in 2002, after Sen. Wellstone was killed in a plane crash late in the campaign.
Faris, a first-time candidate for statewide office whose family is steeped in Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party politics, is viewed as Franken’s key challenger in the Sept. 9 primary. Another candidate, Rob Fitzgerald of Fergus Falls, is making his second Senate bid after running as the Independence Party’s candidate in the 2006 Senate contest.
Alve Erickson, Bob Larson, Ole Savior and Dick Franson fill out the Democratic primary ballot and are among the 18 total Senate candidates. With only weeks remaining before the primary election, Erickson and Larson have not run visible campaigns. Savior is a perennial candidate for statewide office who attracts little support. Franson, too, has made multiple unsuccessful runs for statewide office and bills himself as the only primary candidate who has held elective office — a term on the Minneapolis City Council in the 1960s.
Franken earned his party’s endorsement in June, winning over Democrats who were concerned about his candidacy amid highly publicized reports about his failure to pay income taxes and to provide worker’s compensation insurance to employees. The endorsement came after he apologized for some of his controversial material, including salacious writings he penned for Playboy magazine and jokes proposed for “Saturday Night Live” skits.
Faris said she watched the process from the sidelines, waiting for another high-profile Democrat to step into the race and challenge Franken in the primary. She and others thought trial attorney Mike Ciresi, who had campaigned for party backing but exited the race before the endorsement battle, might re-enter the contest. When that appeared unlikely, Faris said she decided to enter the race.
Faris, whose father Miles Lord is a former federal judge and state attorney general, touts her background as a lifelong Minnesotan, mother, teacher and attorney. The former city councilor from a small Dakota County city says she aligns with Franken on most key policy issues. However, Faris said she agreed with the late Sen. Wellstone’s opposition to the Iraqi war, whereas Franken’s opposition to the war evolved over time.
The three decades’ worth of material Franken amassed as satirist and controversial author and radio show host doesn’t bother Faris but it hurts his election chances, she said.
“I am the alternative if what we believe comes true, which is that he’s going to be pummeled after the primary with blistering attack ads,” Faris said of Franken.
Shortly after the filing deadline in July, both Faris and Fitzgerald called for Franken to debate them before the primary. Franken said he had debated Democratic candidates prior to the party endorsement and having won that contest, is focused on winning the Nov. 4 general election.
Franken said he’s campaigning the way Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party activists have told him to.
“I am thrilled with the support that I’m getting from DFLers all around the state,” Franken said. “They want me to focus on Norm; that’s what they’re asking me to do.”
Franken easily surpasses all of his primary opponents in name recognition, campaign funds and general visibility. Faris said she expects to raise and spend between $200,000 and $300,000 on the primary; she is running TV ads in a number of Minnesota markets.
Fitzgerald, who filed for Senate about 30 minutes before the deadline, said he decided to run as a Democrat this year because he supports the party’s candidate at the top of the ticket — presidential hopeful Barack Obama.
The election should be a referendum on Coleman’s Senate tenure, but Franken’s issues have overshadowed that, Fitzgerald said. The radio company employee is stressing “fiscal responsibility” in his long-shot bid.
“It’s not about providing an alternative to Franken,” Fitzgerald said. “It should be a contest of ideas.”
Wente works for Forum Communications Co., which owns the Daily Globe.