U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum, who represents Minnesota's 4th Congressional District, says she's backing Ciresi over comedian and author Al Franken.
Political observers say the endorsement is a significant development on the DFL side of Minnesota's 2008 Senate race.
Often in contested endorsement races, elected officials hold off on throwing their support behind a particular candidate, saying they'll back whomever grassroot party activists choose at their convention.
McCollum side-stepped questions about whether she thinks Ciresi is more electable than Franken. Instead, she is focusing on her long-standing friendship with Ciresi in explaining her endorsement more than year before the DFL convention.
"I've known Mike and his family for a long time and I've watched him work to help Democrats take this county in a new direction," McCollum said in a telephone interview from Washington. "He's been very supportive of me. I consider him a close friend."
"It's no secret to people in the 4th district and people around the state. I'm excited about his candidacy, and people who come up and ask me who I'm supporting, and I'm supporting Mike Ciresi," McCollum said.
University of Minnesota political scientist Larry Jacobs says he was surprised to hear about the early endorsement.
Al Franken has been getting a lot of attention, especially about his successful fundraising thus far -- more than $1.3 million in the first several weeks of the campaign.
Jacobs reads McCollum's endorsement as a calculated strike intended to take away some of the wind from the Franken campaign. And Jacobs says McCollum's endorsement is clearly aimed at influencing endorsing process.
"But this also may be a message to Washington not to take for granted that Al Franken is the nominee," said Jacobs. "It may reflect some reservation beginning to emerge in Washington and with the National Democratic Party, that even though Al Franken obviously has huge name recognition and fantastic fundraising ability, that he may also not be the best candidate to put forward."
In many cases, candidates offer no official reaction when the competition lands an endorsement. But the Franken campaign was quick to put out a statement saying it was not surprised with the endorsement given Ciresi and McCollum's long-standing friendship.
The Franken campaign also said it is not insulted by McCollum's decision, and that "Al has enormous respect for the Congresswoman."
The Ciresi campaign is certainly hoping this will give it some momentum. This is the first DFL endorsement in the 2008 Senate race from Minnesota's congressional delegation.
Political scientist Steven Schier from Carleton College, like Jacobs from the U of M, says he was surprised to see this endorsement so early in the campaign.
Schier notes that sometimes endorsements from the political establishment anger the grassroots activists who run the parties back home. But Schier says it's not clear how McCollum's endorsement will play out in this race.
"There's always the risk that Washington endorsements will rebound, because grassroots activists see Washington decisionmakers are pretty remote," Schier said. "On the other hand, I think Democrats in this next cycle are going to be pretty practical about how they can win that Senate seat, and Betty McCollum's endorsement may matter to some of them."
Ciresi will no doubt use McCollum's name on campaign materials. Voters will see the two together this weekend, appearing in St. Paul's Cinco de Mayo parade Saturday morning.