Franken says he is now free to target Coleman

Al Franken
U.S. Senate candidate Al Franken said Mike Ciresi's departure from the race frees him up to run against Sen. Norm Coleman.
MPR Photo/Mark Zdechlik

Washington University Political Scientist Steve Smith said having Mike Ciresi out of the mix gives Al Franken an opportunity to begin his general election campaign months earlier than he would have otherwise been able to.

"I think this is a great relief for Franken, Smith said, "because he can now focus more entirely on selling himself to DFLers but selling himself to the independent, moderate voters in Minnesota that will determine the outcome here."

Franken, who was in Los Angeles Tuesday to raise money for his campaign, did not dispute the analysis.

"I agree with, what did you call them the political science types? Now I'm in position to get the party united behind me, behind one nominee and go after the seat," he said.

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Franken, said he'll begin reaching out to different groups of voters in an effort to expand his campaign beyond the DFL activists he's been concentrating on for months.

"Now it's about talking to the general electorate, talking to everybody in Minnesota, so, yes, I'm going to be talking to different audience and seeking them out but I'm not going to change what I've been saying at all," Franken said.

While political scientists think Ciresi's departure helps Franken, Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer said he's positioned to make inroads with DFL delegates.

"I don't think Al can just kind of coast and assume that he has this locked up, because we have a grass roots movement growing around the state," he said.

Nelson-Pallmeyer said he wants to debate Franken as much as possible before the state DFL convention in June. Nelson-Pallmeyer said Franken's celebrity and money have driven his success, not his positions on the issues.

DFL Senate candidate
Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer challenged Franken to a series of debates.
MPR Photo/Mark Zdechlik

"The reason Franken is ahead is because he was in the race for two years and has spent millions of dollars," he said. "What I find is that everywhere I go in the state of Minnesota whenever we're side-by-side I have tons of supporters coming over to my campaign. So this is the period where that will continue."

"I like Jack tremendously but he's not going to dictate what I do with my campaign," Franken said. Franken said he will not commit to another round of DFL debates.

"You know, we've had, I don't know, 16 debates or something and right now I'm really very busy doing all of the things I need to do to prepare for the general," he said.

Franken said he will continue appearing at Senate District and County conventions where delegates to the state convention are being selected.

Political scientist Steve Smith said there's no disputing that Nelson-Pallmeyer's positions have attracted attention and support among DFL delegates. But Smith said there's also no disputing Franken is well positioned to win the endorsement, and that his Franken's position has gotten stronger with Ciresi stepping aside.

"The vast majority of Democrats, it's my sense anyway, really want to win in the fall and they realize that Franken with his money and name recognition and so on is by far the best candidate," he said. "And that's the way I expect it to turn out."

Smith said Ciresi's decision to leave the Senate race also affords Franken more time to concentrate on fundraising for the November election.