Rural Election Watch: Minnesota Senate
By Sean Reagan
It’s all Veepstakes all the time these days, but we like to keep our eye on lots of races here at Rural Votes.
One of them is the race for the late Paul Wellstone’s Minnesota Senate seat. Republican Norm Coleman, who on the seat in 2002, is being challenged by Democrat Al Franken in a race that is proving to be one of the tightest and most expensive in the country.
Coleman, the former Democratic mayor of Saint Paul, has generally enjoyed marginal leads in a race that remains too close to call. If you had leaners to the mix, he’s up on Franken by a mere three points. More importantly, he’s been under 50% in seven of the last eight polls conducted by Rasmussen – that’s dangerous territory for any incumbent.
But there are lots of variables in the race. Franken’s long history as a comedian has provided Coleman with an oppo researcher’s dream. As Joel Stein recently pointed out,
If running for Senate were an Olympic event, Franken would win. If it were a battle of wills or a name-recognition poll or some kind of nerdy trivia battle, he’d win those too. Even if it were just a question of having people agree with your policies, he’d win a Senate seat in the state, where Barack Obama is ahead of John McCain. But getting elected means making people believe you can relate to them, and that’s why Franken — writer, actor, comedian, talk-show host and longtime denizen of Saturday Night Live — is running behind Republican Senator Norm Coleman.
Franken has been a dogged candidate, hardly coasting on his celebrity coattails. He’s called on the Federal Government to guarantee military veterans health care for life, as well as more spending on screening and treatment of mental health issues and brain injuries.
“Every year there’s been a budget battle for veterans health care,” Franken said. “I don’t think they should be subject to that kind of political debate.”
He’s called for reform of the No Child Left Behind Act and wants to forgive student loans for teachers who pledge to serve in under-served and under-privileged areas. That’s critical for bringing excellent teachers to rural schools.
He’s also said he favors an “Apollo plan” to deal with high gas prices, calling the current energy situation more of an opportunity than a crisis.
“It’s an opportunity to preserve our environment,” Franken said. “It’s an opportunity to create jobs here in Minnesota. It’s an opportunity for our farmers. It’s an opportunity to end our dependence on foreign oil. Let’s go to electric cars, shall we?”
And earlier this month, he took Coleman to task for letting down the state’s dairy farmers.
Franken repeatedly accused Coleman of selling out farmers in areas of trade policy, in the milk program and in “country of origin labeling,” otherwise known as COOL.
And Franken chose to hammer those points home in his closing remarks.
“Ask livestock producers about his vote to delay COOL,” he said. “Ask the sugar beet farmers about his vote on CAFTA or ask a dairy farmer about his vote on milk to reduce it from a 45 to a 34 percent, payment and they’ll tell you when it counted Norm Coleman wasn’t there for them.”
It’s likely to stay tight right up to the end. Minnesota will be the focus of national attention in the presidential race. Earlier this month, Obama held a four-point lead in the state on McCain. Both parties consider the state’s ten electoral votes within their grasp. Republicans, in fact, head to St. Paul later this month for their convention.
And there’s plenty of reason to believe that Coleman – despite that razor thin margin he’s clinging to – will find himself on the losing end of a blue tide come November.
Posted on August 22nd, 2008 by seanreagan
Filed under: Senate Races