Coleman sounds Republican alarm against Franken

Al Franken
Al Franken listens to staff members during a visit to a health clinic in Minneapolis.
MPR Photo/Mark Zdechlik

Norm Coleman hardly ever talks about the Democrats who may challenge him in 2008. When asked about his possible opponents, Coleman typically sidesteps the question like he did on a conference call on Thursday.

"It's much too early to get involved in the political crossfires," he said. "I'm going to focus on my job, that's what I think my constituents expect me to do. When I talk to constituents, the last thing they want is for the campaign to start right now."

Sen. Norm Coleman
U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., is not saying much about his Democratic oppponent Al Franken in public. But he talks about him a lot in a new campaign fundraising letter.
MPR Photo/Tom Scheck

But Coleman's campaign has clearly started. In a fundraising letter, Coleman wrote to supporters earlier this month that he is the national Democrats' top target in 2008. He also took aim at Al Franken, mentioning his name seven times in the four-page letter. He didn't mention attorney Mike Ciresi at all.

In the letter, Coleman says he takes Franken very seriously and expects him to be the likely nominee of the DFL Party. Coleman also writes that Franken "practices the cynical politics of hate that is petty, bitter, divisive, mean, vicious and cruel."

"Very, very flattering," Franken said when asked about the letter. "I think it says that he's most worried about me and I take that as a good sign."

Franken also speculates that Coleman hopes using his name and background will help him raise money from conservatives.

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Before he entered the Senate race, Franken was a radio host at the liberal Air America radio network. He's also written several books that criticized Republicans. Before that he wrote for and appeared on Saturday Night Live.

In the fundraising letter, Coleman says he takes Franken very seriously and expects him to be the likely nominee of the DFL Party.

On MPR's Midday program, Franken stressed his connections to Minnesota and said he would work for middle-class families. He also took a shot at his DFL opponent and Coleman's connections to business.

"No one's bought me," Franken said. "I don't owe anything to anybody. I'm not beholden to anybody. I'm obviously not in the Ciresi area in terms of personal wealth, and I'm not going to self-fund or anything like that. Norm's got money from big pharma, and big utilities and big insurance."

But Republicans have criticized Franken for his Hollywood connections. Franken raised more than $1 million for Democratic candidates in 2006. Some of that money came from entertainers like Larry David, Barbara Streisand and Nora Ephron.

Minnesota Republican Party Chair Ron Carey says those connections, along with Franken's sometimes harsh comments aimed at Republicans, will help Coleman and the Republican Party raise money.

"He is a very polarizing figure," Carey said. "Now that he's in a political environment, he's taking his polarization into politics. People with such strong far-left philosophies do motivate our base and do motivate them to get more involved, so I think it's a net positive for us."

Carey said he thinks next year's Senate race will end up being the most expensive in the state's history. He said Coleman and Franken are two well-known and prodigious fundraisers.

Carey also said attorney Mike Ciresi could spend his personal wealth on his campaign, even though Ciresi has said he does not intend to rely solely on his own money.

Whether it's because of Al Franken's viability as a candidate or his usefulness as a GOP fundraising tool, Norm Coleman is clearly focusing on him. A full 21 months before Election Day.