Minnesota politics in the limelight, as usual

I usually leave Minnesota politics to my colleagues for the very good reason that they know a lot about the subject and I don’t. Nor do intend to commit a major violation of this practice. But in light of Jesse Ventura’s announcement that he will not run for the Senate, and this piece by Chris Cillizza about Norm Coleman’s campaign, I thought I might at least try to rouse my colleagues into commenting.

With Ventura out, the race is down to Senator Norm Coleman and comedian Al Franken. Cillizza suggests that given the treacherous political environment for Republicans, Coleman’s best hope for victory is not to emphasize his politics but rather to tout what he has done for Minnesota. Cillizza points to this recent Coleman ad as the embodiment of that strategy.

There’s no doubt that Coleman’s ability to deliver will be a huge theme in his re-election campaign, as it typically is for incumbent Senators facing even semi-serious challenges (Coleman has been religious about going to bat for Minnesota pretty much since the day he took office, back when Republicans were still reasonably popular). But Coleman has more than what Cillizza calls “pork” going for him in this election. As a center-right candidate, his political views are, I suspect, more closely aligned with Minnesota voters than are those of the leftist Franken.

What say John and Scott?

JOHN responds: Norm Coleman is a good, hard-working Senator. He’s never been much of a porkmeister, although, like any Senator, he’s no doubt been able to bring home some bacon from time to time. Some Minnesota conservatives are skeptical of Norm because by nature, he isn’t a naysayer. He is a problem-solver, and his instinct is always to try to find a way to get things done.

Currently, he is working on an energy compromise that would permit drilling in the outer continental shelf and development of Rocky Mountain shale oil, but not drilling in ANWR. Coleman, who has voted against ANWR development himself, says that for many Democrats opposition to ANWR drilling is a “religion.” Norm thinks he may be able to get enough Democratic votes behind his package to do the economy some serious good. That’s typical: Coleman focuses on the practical realities of getting things done. His values are conservative, but he’s not afraid to do business with the other side when that’s what it takes to move matters forward. Coleman really is what Obama pretends to be, a Senator who can reach across the aisle to get things done on behalf of the American people.

That’s not good enough, apparently, for some conservatives, but it will be plenty good enough for Minnesota voters in November. He will crush the former comedian and former Minnesotan, Al Franken.

SCOTT adds: Cillizza column isn’t unfair, but it fails to reckon either with Senator Coleman’s strengths or Al Franken’s weaknesses. As Cillizza notes, Coleman brought hockey back to St. Paul as the mayor of the city. When the Republican Party holds its national convention in St. Paul in September, it will be holding it in the House that Norm built as Mayor Coleman. The Coleman ad would make sense in virtually any political climate.

Norm Coleman has established himself as a player in the Senate and as a formidable political figure at home. Nevertheless, if Senator Coleman were facing a generic Democrat this November, he might be in serious trouble. As it is, the Democrats have done him the favor of nominating the comedian who hasn’t been funny since the expiration of the Al Franken Decade in 1990 to oppose him. Senator Coleman should survive.

Today was the filing deadline for the Democratic primary and for the general election. The race is not quite down to Coleman and Franken. Among other things, it should be noted that former Ventura ally Dean Barkley waited out Ventura’s tease and declared today that he will stand for the Senate seat as the candidate of the Independence Party (which would have been Ventura’s vehicle). And the virtually unknown daughter of former Minnesota Attorney General and United States District Court Judge Miles Lord — Priscilla Lord Faris — will challenge Franken in the Democratic primary in September. Neither development hurts Coleman and neither can help Franken, while the addition of Barkley to the race may actually hurt Franken.

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