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Ciresi Leaves Franken Smiling

Comedian a Near Lock for Minnesota Senate Nomination

In a boost to comedian Al Franken’s (D) campaign, attorney Mike Ciresi (D) dropped out of the Minnesota Senate race this week, putting Franken on the almost-clear path to face Sen. Norm Coleman (R) in November.

Franken now only must defeat anti-war activist Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer, who lags far behind him in support, to get the Democrat-Farmer-Labor Party nod this June.

But while Franken is smiling, are national Democrats? The answer might be, doggone it, people like him.

At one point tepid in their support for Franken, national Democrats are now increasingly supportive of his candidacy. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has not formally taken sides between the remaining two Democrats in the Senate contest, a practice it has employed with at least one other statewide candidate this cycle.

DSCC spokesman Matthew Miller, however, recently touted a Franken candidacy against Coleman.

“The official DFL endorsement process is still under way, but recognizing that, Al Franken is in position to unite the party and run a strong campaign against Norm Coleman,” Miller said. “The last two public polls show him beating Coleman, and that’s a reflection of his deep support around the state.”

Franken campaign manager Andy Barr acknowledged that Franken had been to Washington, D.C., at least three times since he began his campaign a little more than a year ago, and has met with the DSCC.

“Anybody who wants to do well in a Senate race in this country would do well to ask the people who do this for a living for some advice,” Barr said.

Meanwhile, Nelson-Pallmeyer campaign manager Chris McNellis said her candidate had not traveled to Washington since he filed his candidacy in mid-October, nor had he met with the DSCC. McNellis also said neither her candidate nor any of his staffers attended the DSCC’s candidate training session last week in Washington.

Franken and an aide were in town last week, but Miller declined to discuss the committee’s interactions with the candidates.

Yet regardless of what level of national support he’s getting, it’s clear that Franken has been the frontrunner for months, despite Ciresi pouring his own funds into the race and attracting the endorsements of many prominent Democrats in the state.

Ciresi, who had already gone negative on Franken, was considered by Republicans to be more moderate than the former comedian. His withdrawal from the race only allows Franken to continue to heavily target Coleman — what operatives say was his campaign strategy since the beginning of the race.

In most primary contests, an underfunded challenge from lefty Nelson-Pallmeyer could hardly make a dent in Franken’s campaign. But in the DFL endorsement process, the math just isn’t that simple.

Franken and Nelson-Pallmeyer are in the midst of competing for their party’s endorsement this June, a process that is months in the making as DFL party activists meet across the state to caucus for their candidates of choice.

Since the Feb. 5 statewide presidential caucuses, state DFL-ers have been meeting for their Senate district or county conventions all over Minnesota to pick delegates to send to the party’s state convention.

Both Nelson-Pallmeyer and Franken have agreed to abide by their party’s endorsement in June — making these couple months of wooing delegates a make-or-break move for both candidates.

Although support is only anecdotal at this point, it’s clear that Franken had a clear lead followed by Nelson-Pallmeyer and Ciresi in third place, at least until he dropped out Monday afternoon.

Ciresi also had the support of many so-called “delegates-at-large” and Democratic officials including Rep. Betty McCollum, former Senate Majority Leader Roger Moe and Senate President Jim Metzen. And not unlike the presidential nominating process for Democrats, delegate-at-large voters count for a portion of the ballots at the June convention.

Nonetheless, Ciresi never seemed to pick up momentum with activists. Nelson-Pallmeyer’s manager, McNellis, acknowledged the campaign’s internal tallies showed them in the second spot and Ciresi in the third place for delegate totals.

“The way the delegate process works in Minnesota is that no one can have an absolutely firm total at this point because there’s always persuasion going on,” McNellis said. “But in a broad sense, we do believe that’s where the count is.”

Now the battle to pick up Ciresi’s former supporters begins, although it was unlikely a large enough bloc of voters to swing the frontrunner status from Franken. While Franken might be falling into favor with national Democrats, he must spend the next few months continuing to woo state activists to his corner.

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