|Time: Races to Watch: Franken May Get Last Laugh in Minnesota
||[Oct. 23rd, 2008|01:15 pm]
If this were a normal election year, Norm Coleman probably wouldn't have much trouble winning a second term representing Minnesota in the United States Senate. Granted, Coleman is a Republican, and Minnesota tends to be a Democratic state. But both classifications are deceptive. |
A former popular mayor of St. Paul, Coleman was a Democrat before he switched parties in 1996, and he remains a fairly moderate Republican today. And for all its history as a bastion of liberalism, Minnesota morphed into a quirky swing state in the mid-1990s, bestowing statewide office to politicians of every stripe, from doctrinaire conservatives (Rod Grams) and old-school liberals (Paul Wellstone) to flaky, funky former professional wrestlers (Jessie Ventura). Al Gore and John Kerry both beat George W. Bush in Minnesota, but by surprisingly slim margins. And in the 2006 mid-terms, when Democrats were knocking off incumbent Republicans across the country, Minnesotans dared to be different by re-electing their Republican governor, Tim Pawlenty.
Even in this annus horribilis for the GOP, until a month ago Coleman looked like he might coast to victory over his unlikely Democratic challenger, comedian-turned-author-turned-liberal-radio-host-turned-politician Al Franken. In the most expensive Senate race in the country, Coleman portrayed himself as ordinary, wholesome and dull — which he not unreasonably assumed would go over well in a state culture known, with both affection and derision, as Minnesota Nice. For Coleman's purposes, being safe and boring seemed especially wise when contrasted with the loud, funny, inexperienced and sometimes offensive Saturday Night Live alumnus he was running against. Franken is very smart, but he's the opposite of boring. And given his resume, he couldn't exactly sell himself as safe.