The senatorial race in Minnesota is still inexplicably close. With the GOP pulling money from other races to more effectively back incumbent Republican Norm Coleman, who already has both major Minnesota newspapers endorsing him and an army of special interest groups fighting along side him, it begs the question: why is Al Franken still in it? The answer, it seems, is that Minnesotans are an intelligent electorate.
For most of the race, Coleman assumed the opposite. He ran negative ads almost exclusively. He dismissed the issues and the crises at hand, and instead campaigned on character attacks alone and targeted the "low information voters". He concerned himself not with the economic crisis, but with decade old SNL skits. And through it all, he watched his once commanding double-digit lead drop to a virtual toss-up.
The public shift toward Al Franken, the candidate who spoke to the issues and brought new ideas to the table is not surprising. After all, this is a state that elected a former pro-wrestler to office. But while some present this as proof that Vikings fans are foolhardy, Norm Coleman can attest to the fact that it really means they're a group of voters not blindly tied to party lines or incumbent politicians. They are independent thinkers and a group interested in what candidates say and willing to vote for someone they believe in, despite their background.
That's why, despite his comedic background, Al Franken is still in the race. Early in his candidacy DFL party leaders had their doubts and said it flies in the face of conventional wisdom that has seen no former comedian ever hold a public office of this stature. Some might argue that a boa-wearing Pro-wrestler is as close to a comedian as one can get. But Al Franken's serious intellect and strong command of the issues coupled with his work ethic has won over party leaders and hard-working Minnesotans in every corner of the state. Minnesota Democrat Jim Oberstar and chair of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, has marveled at how hard Franken has worked at campaigning all across the state. These face-to-face meetings have allowed Al to show Minnesotans a very different persona than the one that Norm Coleman has tried to sketch in his negative TV ads and frequent character assassinations.
So although Norm Coleman publicly stated that he would condemn any negative advertising against his opponents he has yet to vocalize this toward any of the special interest groups that have apparently gone "rogue" and are running ads against Franken without any input from Norm Coleman. Apparently his religious inspired aversion to negative campaigning only exists to ads he pays for himself.
Meanwhile Al Franken continues to criss-cross the state of Minnesota with his message of bringing change to Minnesota. He's still airing his issue oriented TV spots. He's still giving stump speeches about his thoughts on Iraq, on the economic crisis all Americans are facing, on providing incentives and tax credits to businesses to keep jobs in Minnesota, and on the solutions and ideas he has for each of the tough issues that face Minnesotans. But his voice is tough to hear as he's standing neck deep in republican funded attack ads. If you can't tune in yourself, here is just a sampling:
NRSC - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8AFh-OJxR7I
US Chamber of Commerce - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9x9IvE-alvI
NFIB - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D5EYN8PRRes
Humiliates minorities? Laughs at the disabled? Makes child abuse a joke? Such unfounded accusations are proof that the Norm Coleman campaign is still running behind a shroud of unethical and non-issue related fluff. A shroud that even goes so far as to take inspirational stories Franken tells about the late Paul Wellstone at rallies and twists them to launch attacks on his mentality and demeanor.
And, while it is a shroud that has ironically allowed Franken to close the gap on his rival – it still hasn't fooled the majority of Minnesotans. These despicable ads didn't work for Coleman six months ago when he was paying for them and they won't work now when he is not directly paying for them (wink, wink). No, Al Franken is still in this thing simply because the race is in Minnesota. And in Minnesota, voters look at issues, ideas and personal merit. In a race that comes down to that, it's far more surprising that Norm Coleman is still around.