Sunday, August 31, 2014

Race of the Day- Minnesota U.S. Senate

65 Days Until Election Day

Status: Democrat Incumbent
2012 Presidential Result: Blue State (Midwest)

Outlook: Leans Democrat

Six years ago, the Senate contest in Minnesota resulted in a controversial finish, which resulted in Democrat Al Franken finally being declared the winner and being sworn into office in July. After the initial vote count, it appeared that he fell a few hundred votes short of beating incumbent Republican Norm Coleman, in a very tight race, where an Independent candidate caused both major party nominees to be held to under 42 percent of the vote. During a mandatory recount though, votes that were previously tossed out were included and after much legal wrangling, Franken was declared the winner by 312 votes. Liberals were thrilled and conservatives were dismayed by this outcome, after what had already been a very good year for Democrats.

Franken certainly took an unconventional path to the Senate. He first received a level of fame in the 1970s, as an often drug-induced writer and occasional performer on Saturday Night Live. He continued his career as a comedian, actor, and writer in New York City for many years, and invented such notable characters as Stuart Smalley. Having grown up in Minnesota, Franken had started to become more politically active in his show business work and eventually began to focus his career around writing books that were scathing of Republicans and as a flame-throwing liberal talk radio host. His ratings never approached the heights of conservative talkers on the AM dial, but he came well known to liberal activists around the country and Franken frequently talked about returning to Minnesota and challenging the conservative Coleman (a former Democrat) for the Senate.

It might have surprised some people when he did just that in 2008, and they may have continued to be surprised when he easily captured his party's nomination and that he would go on to be as competitive against Coleman as he was. In a state that has frequently produced some odd election results, Franken became the controversial winner of the three way race and would be on his way to Capitol Hill, six months after the other freshmen Senators elected that year.

Many, on both sides of the aisle, anticipated Franken to be highly visible to the national media and very overtly partisan, given his background in comedy and talk radio. For the most part though, he has kept a very low profile during his term in the Senate, mostly focusing on issues related to his state and while his voting record has been predictably liberal, he has been noted for a surprising amount of civility in his public discourse, even during personal interaction with members of the Tea Party. Many on the left are probably somewhat disappointed that he has not used an acid tongue in a more upfront manner as a U.S. Senator, but his strategy has certainly helped improve his political standing as he seeks a second term.

Norm Coleman declined to seek a rematch with Franken in 2014, leaving the party looking for another candidate to take on the very liberal Senator who had won with less than 42 percent of the vote under dubious circumstances. Several stepped forward, including a female State Senator, who some considered to be the most promising electorally, but Republican Party delegates, after many ballots, delivered their endorsement to first time candidate, Mike McFadden, a financial executive. In contrast to the party's Gubernatorial endorsement, most of the candidates dropped out in favor of McFadden, who would easily win the August primary over second-tier GOP competition.

Franken is certainly well-funded, having raised a lot of money from around the country, including from long-time associates in New York and Hollywood. Being independently wealthy is certainly a plus for McFadden in this race, as he will need to pour in resources. He can point to a record of business success and creating jobs, but Franken and his party will tie him to corporate greed and outsourcing. It remains to be seen whether Republicans will be able to successfully counter that sort of political populism in a state where it has worked before.

Minnesota has seen very liberal Democrats and very conservative Republicans elected to the Senate, not to mention a colorful ex pro-wrestler as Governor. Personalities and the ability to connect are often key in high-profile Minnesota races, more so than ideology. No state has voted for more consecutively for a Democrat in a Presidential race though, and the fact that this Senate contest is taking place in a midterm, where Republicans might have more of a turnout edge, is not as favorable to Franken than his ability to turn out young voters and minorities six years ago. In recent decades, independent and third party candidates have played a big part in Minnesota statewide elections, but this year, despite near record dissatisfaction with the major parties, they do not seem to be a major factor in this Senate race or the contest for Governor. Any votes though in this race that does go to the once more influential Independence Party seem likelier to hurt the GOP this year.

Since this race began being polled, Franken has held a lead over McFadden and the other potential Republican candidates before him. Like the situation of the state's first term Democrat Governor though, the lead is not large enough to be considered totally insurmountable. Republicans will need to hope for a break though, such as in debates, or the yet to develop massive Al Franken gaffe or controversial comment that endangers his political career, which Republicans have been anticipating since 2008.

A parallel in this contest could be made to the last midterm election, to neighboring Wisconsin, where a conservative first time Republican candidate with a considerable business background knocked off an incumbent Democrat Senator who was seen as a hero to the left-wing nationwide. Republicans like myself can at least hope for their to be similarities as we inch close to Election Day.

The way things look right now, Franken will win this race without any of the drama or controversy of his original election. I still feel though that based on his extremely narrow plurality margin six years ago and what is shaping up to be a strong overall year for the GOP nationally might cause this race to tighten a bit in the stretch run. Still, Franken has played it smart by being boring and Minnesota Democrats might have been successful enough in building a firewall to hold back.what could be a GOP tidal wave in many other states.

McFadden campaign link:

Senate races predicted thus far: 7 D (4 Safe, 2 Leans, 1 Tossup), 10 R (3 Safe, 1 Likely, 4 Leans, 2 Tossup)
Overall predicted thus far: 41 D, 40 R (net Republican gain of 4)


At 5:36 PM, Blogger Steve Boudreaux said...

Franken is likely a two termer and retire by 2020 (after 12 years).


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