Ciresi quits U.S. Senate race

Mike Ciresi
Attorney Mike Ciresi
MPR Photo/Tom Weber

Ciresi announced his exodus from the Senate race by issuing a written statement saying continuing his campaign would only lead to an unnecessary floor flight, a reference to the DFL State Party convention in June where activists will choose a Senate candidate.

Ciresi held no news conference and gave no interviews. His campaign said the withdrawal statement spoke for itself.

"I think Ciresi just saw the writing on the wall," said University of Minnesota political scientist Lawrence Jacobs.

Jacobs said Ciresi was clearly having trouble attracting money and attention to his campaign and that only the timing of his decision to quit was in question.

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"I'm surprised that he's done it this early," Jacobs said. "I thought he'd hang on a little longer. But frankly I have just not heard or seen many positive signals for him and his campaign."

Ciresi launched his campaign last spring. He told cheering supporters he would redirect the nation, which he said lost its course because special interests are more important in Washington than the common good of Americans.

From the beginning Ciresi said he would not self-fund his campaign like he did in 2000 when he spent more than $4.5 million on a failed Senate race.

But Ciresi ended up loaning and donating more than $2.5 million to his latest political effort.

During the campaign Ciresi repeatedly brought up his record as an attorney. He led the legal team that won Minnesota's multi-billion dollar tobacco settlement. He has also litigated other high profile cases.

Ciresi argued he was more electable than Franken, given Franken's sometimes crude, polarizing past statements.

In the past several days Ciresi used campaign literature to sharply criticize Franken for his positions on Iraq and health care reform.

Carleton College political scientist Steven Schier said Ciresi's campaign never seemed to get traction despite Ciresi's efforts to question Franken's viability. Schier said Franken's work to help other Democrats get elected over the past two years appears to have paid off.

"Al Franken raised more money than Mike Ciresi, and I think he worked the state over a longer period of time and more aggressively in terms of retail politics," he said. "And those two actions by the Franken campaign I think really put Ciresi at a disadvantage and he was never able to overcome that."

Norm Coleman issued a statement wishing Ciresi well and saying the attorney would have been a formidable opponent.

The Republican Party of Minnesota issued a news release saying with Ciresi out, there's no chance a moderate voice will emerge from the DFL. The GOP statement rips Franken but does not mention Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer, who claimed to be running a strong second to Franken just a couple of days ago.

Nelson-Pallmeyer predicted Ciresi supporters will now flock to him, and he thinks Ciresi's decision to drop out will not spare activists an floor battle at the June endorsing convention.

Nelson-Pallemeyer said his opposition to the Iraq war from the beginning and his positions on environmental issues are attracting increasing attention from DFL activists.

"Two key differences that I have with Al: One, I think the Iraq war is going to be an absolutely critical issue in the fall and because Al supported the war he's going to have a tough time taking on Norm Coleman around that issue. And the other is climate change," he said.

But Lawrence Jacobs from the University of Minnesota said Ciresi's decision to step aside will almost certainly play to Franken's advantage. With Ciresi and his millions gone, Franken is now the only candidate with a proven ability to bring millions of dollars to his campaign.

"There will be a lot of Democrats who will be concerned about electablity, and on that issue Franken's going to have the edge," Jacobs said.

Al Franken declined to comment on Ciresi's departure Monday night, saying he wanted to talk to Ciresi first.