2/25/2008

Al Frankenstein

Al Franken is a serious comedian. He has sincere intentions to better the lives of Minnesotans. Some locals are even starting to believe this. A Rasmussen poll released last week showed Franken with a slight lead over incumbent Senator Norm Coleman, 49-46. That's good news for Franken, but he still has serious problems that he must overcome to unseat Coleman in one of the three most watched Senate races in the country.

Franken has enjoyed a reputable career as a Saturday Night Live writer and actor, authored several bestselling screeds, and hosted the flagship radio show on Air America. Though he hasn't yet received the official endorsement of the Minnesota Democratic (Farmer-Labor) Party, he probably will. The satirist's entertainment connections have earned him millions in Hollywood donations. These are not his problems.

This is: With nine months to go before the election, Franken must prove that he's credible. He has never been involved in serious civic engagements or held elected office, either in Minnesota or New York, where he lived for almost 40 years before he moved back to his home state to pursue public office. Even Franken himself has shown some uncertainty about his candidacy. In a video on YouTube announcing his candidacy, Franken admitted, "Minnesotans have a right to be skeptical about whether I'm ready for this challenge, and to wonder how seriously I would take the responsibility that I'm asking you to give me."

His opponent, Senator Norm Coleman, has represented Minnesotans in elected office since 1993. As the Democrat mayor of St. Paul in the nineties, Coleman revitalized a city that had been in the dumps. After getting fed up with the Democratic Party, Coleman was elected to the U.S. Senate as a Republican in 2002. Though he fails to toe the line on every issue important to mainstream conservatives, he has been a strong proponent of conservative values, voting to cut taxes, ban partial-birth abortion, and make health care affordable.

Franken has made a reputation for himself as a comedian with Hollywood friends and Hollywood values. A recent Star Tribune article reported that 77 percent of Franken's donations have come from outside Minnesota, with one-fourth coming from California.

Michael Malbin, executive director of the Campaign Finance Institute, told the paper that a challenger will normally "build up with a home base and then prove himself, and after the race becomes competitive then that national money starts coming....This is somebody with a national reputation building on a national reputation."

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