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« Dems Make Major Buy | Blog Home Page | Broun Faces Tuesday Primary »

Franken Files For Sen

Comedian Al Franken, winner of the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party's endorsement for a Senate seat held by Republican Norm Coleman, officially filed paperwork to run for the seat yesterday, the St. Paul Pioneer-Press reported. By formally filing with the Secretary of State, Franken, who so far faces only nominal opposition in the state's September 9 primary, is likely setting up a battle royale in November between two candidates who have already shown a personal disdain for each other.

Franken has not had an easy ride in the last few months. After entering the race, local and national Democrats vocally worried about his past as a comedian with a penchant for sometimes off-color jokes. Lately, columns he wrote for Playboy Magazine and parts of his biting commentary in several of his books have come back to haunt him, while revelations that his accountant failed to pay taxes in seventeen states have dogged him as well.

But it hasn't stopped him from raising boatloads of cash. The one-time Saturday Night Live actor has already pulled in $11.5 million, including just over $2.25 million in the Second Quarter, and has $4.2 million cash on hand. For a challenger, that figure is unheard of so early in the year, especially without self-funding the campaign. Franken's burn rate -- that is, the pace at which he spends the money -- has been very high all year, but the race promises to be close; despite his rough few months, Franken is still just ten points behind his Republican rival, a recent poll showed.

Coleman, a moderate Republican who has assiduously distanced himself from the national GOP and President Bush, raised more money than Franken for the first time in several fundraising quarters. Through June 30, Coleman had pulled in $2.35 million for the Second Quarter, bringing his total raised to $15.4 million and his bank balance up to $7.2 million. That's already more than 150% of what Coleman raised for his entire 2002 campaign.

But in a state that has voted Democratic for president more consecutive times than any other, Coleman will need the cash in a presidential election year. Too, the Republican incumbent has been dogged recently by accusations that he is benefiting from a wealthy friend who is giving him a sweetheart deal on a room in a Washington, D.C. condo. While Coleman denies any wrongdoing, it's given Democrats an opportunity to shift the conversation away from Franken and back to Coleman.

Add to both flawed candidates' troubles the notion that Jesse Ventura might jump into the race, as he seemed to suggest earlier this week, and Minnesota has the potential to become one of the more exciting races this year. Ventura, the former wrestler and governor, says he will decide by the Tuesday filing deadline whether to throw -- bodyslam? -- his hat in the ring.

Without Ventura in the race, strategists on both sides will likely suggest each candidate spend the millions they will have in their campaign accounts to try to make the debate about their opponent's foibles. If the news in early November is about Franken, Coleman will win re-election. But if it's about Coleman, President Bush or anything that includes the word "Republican," the race will be too close for many Minnesota Republicans to watch.