The current United States Senate race in Minnesota pitting lefty comedian, satirist, talk-show host and bestselling author Al Franken (right) against Republican incumbent Senator Norm Coleman has been incredibly dull so far. This is surprising because Franken is easily the most intriguing Senate candidate in the United States today. As Kathrine Skiba noted in U.S. News and World Report (May 16, 2008): "At first glance, Franken's Senate challenge seems hard to take seriously. A fixture on Saturday Night Live for 15 seasons, the actor-comedian, author, screenwriter, producer, and radio host has a fat resume: seven USO tours, six books, five Emmy Awards, two Grammys, and a degree from Harvard."
Franken's campaign has gotten off to a sluggish start. The latest polls showed Coleman up 7 points over Franken (the May 19 Minneapolis Star Tribune poll put Coleman at 51 percent to Franken's 44 percent). In late April, Senate candidate Franken admitted that he owed taxes in some 17 states amounting to $53,000. On June 7, the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party (the Populist Era-sounding name of Minnesota's Democratic Party) will nominate its candidate at its state convention. Franken is expected to easily win the party's nomination, but he faces competition from a left-wing university professor, Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer. Both Franken and Nelson-Pallmeyer are claiming to be heirs to the legacy of beloved left-wing Senator Paul Wellstone. While most observers are predicting an easy Franken victory at next month's state convention, the comedian can't be too thrilled with a challenge from his left flank.
Now Minnesota Republicans are digging up all kinds of outrageous statements made by Franken in the past in an attempt to show that he's too "extreme" (whatever the hell that means) for the job. They've dug up an over-the-top satirical column he wrote in a 2000 issue of Playboy about his visit to a make-believe sex institute, which is full of references to sexual acts between Franken and other people and -- worse -- between Franken and various "machines." An open letter written to Franken by the Minnesota Republican Party stated:
"The words and descriptions you write about are beyond vulgar. They demean and degrade women as thoroughly and disrespectfully as any article we have ever seen, and we are horrified to believe that someone running for the U.S. Senate could have written them. This column shows flagrant disregard for women, and an extreme objectification of women as sex objects for your pleasure. While you may attempt to defend your writing as satire, we hardly find anything defensible about your finding humor in your desire to have sex with women or robots that look like women simply to give yourself a good time. Denounce this article and apologize immediately."
So far, no apologies have come from the Franken camp. I hope the leaders of the Minnesota Republican Party aren't holding their breaths. (On second thought...)
The political junkies, pundits and talking heads all seem to agree that Franken has been running a relatively lackluster campaign so far. Franken would do well to listen to the comments of Larry Jacobs, a political science professor at the University of Minnesota. In reference to Franken's over-the-top Playboy column, Jacobs observed, "The Playboy story is one of many arrows to set the election as a referendum on the challenger rather than the incumbent. This is part of one strategy, which is to frame a particular question for voters: Does the challenger reflect Minnesota's values? This is a striking departure from usual re-election campaigns which are framed by the question: How has the incumbent done? Coleman loses if this question prevails."
Jacobs also warned: "Franken has done some things very well, but he has not yet created a consistent and effective strategy of making this a campaign about the incumbent. He has played into the Coleman campaign's strategy through inexperience and arrogance."
To complicate matters, pro-wrestler, politician and talk-show host Jesse Ventura (right) -- governor of Minnesota from 1999 to 2003 -- is now considering entering the race for the United States Senate against Franken and Coleman. So the race won't be dull much longer. Meantime, we can only hope Franken sits down with some capable advisers and maps out an effective strategy for victory.