In Minn., A Tight Race For U.S. Senate

The nation's most expensive 2008 Senate race is playing itself out in Minnesota where comedian Al Franken is challenging Republican Sen. Norm Coleman. Most polls suggest the race is a toss-up.

Copyright © 2008 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

Now, to Minnesota. In the most expensive Senate race in this election season, the Democrat is comedian, author, and former radio talk show host Al Franken challenging Republican Senator Norm Coleman. Mark Zdechlik of Minnesota Public Radio has this story about how that contest is playing out over the airwaves.

MARK ZDECHLIK: Republican Senator Norm Coleman, his Democratic challenger Al Franken, and their supporters are bombarding Minnesotans with negative campaign ads.

Unidentified Woman #1: His work's called inappropriate, unacceptable, and offensive by fellow Democrats...

Mr. AL FRANKEN (Democrat, Minnesota Senate Race Candidate): Sometimes, I've gone too far.

Unidentified Woman #2: We couldn't agree more. With Al Franken, it isn't outrage. It's just anger.

Unidentified Man #1: Wall Street in turmoil, the economy devastated, tax payers left to pay the bill. Who is looking out for us? Not Norm Coleman.

ZDECHLIK: Despite his background as a Saturday Night Live star and biting satirist, Franken has been running a serious campaign here against Coleman for more than a year and a half. He's been trying to link Coleman with the unpopular Bush administration.

Unidentified Man #2: Norm Coleman, part of the problem, not the solution.

ZDECHLIK: Coleman, who ran for Senate six years ago at the urging of President Bush, has been campaigning as a moderate, often pointing out areas in which he has opposed the White House. Coleman has been trying to define Franken as an angry partisan with no track record of public service.

Senator NORM COLEMAN (Republican, Minnesota): I approve this message because outrage isn't leadership. It's what you do that makes a difference.

ZDECHLIK: Jennifer Duffy is with the Cook Political Report. She says, with Franken running, Minnesota's Senate race is the highest profile Senate battle in the nation. Duffy says in no other state are there so many different ads running.

Ms. JENNIFER DUFFY (Senior Editor, Cook Political Report): We're seeing an almost absurd number of ads. At my last count, we're up to almost 50 since mid-July. So pity the voters of Minnesota. They can't turn their TV on without seeing the Senate race.

ZDECHLIK: Incumbents typically play political defense against attacks from challengers. Duffy says it's been the other way around in the Minnesota race, but that Franken has held his own. A newly published Star Tribune newspaper poll gave Franken a 10-point lead over Coleman, but most polls show the two running neck and neck.

At their first general election debate Sunday night, Coleman and Franken defended their ads. Al Franken.

Mr. FRANKEN: We've been running ads about Norm Coleman's record, and so they're negative because his record hasn't been very good.

(Soundbite of laughter)

ZDECHLIK: Norm Coleman.

Mr. COLEMAN: He doesn't have a record of service to Minnesota. He doesn't have a record of producing of even half of the people of this state, so there are some tough odds. When they go to his record, just as his ads, he says before to challenge my record.

ZDECHLIK: Joining Coleman and Franken at the debate was independent's party Senate candidate Dean Barkley. Barkley is getting support from this former politician.

Former Governor JESSE VENTURA (Independent, Minnesota): Minnesotans, this is Governor Jesse Ventura. What do you think of our Republican president...

ZDECHLIK: Barkley calls the Coleman and Franken ads embarrassing. But at the debate, he urged the two not to stop.

Mr. DEAN BARKLEY (Independent Senatorial Candidate, Minnesota): I really have to thank them both for doing it right now because I think I have been the beneficiary of the negative ads because you're driving people to me.

ZDECHLIK: Despite having almost no money, recent polls show nearly one in five Minnesota voters backing Dean Barkley. Jennifer Duffy says Barkley's candidacy could be significant.

Ms. DUFFY: The big unknown factor in this race is what kind of role Dean Barkley is going to play and who exactly he draws vote from.

ZDECHLIK: Because both Barkley and Franken are outsiders, conventional political wisdom would have Barkley taking more support from Al Franken than incumbent Norm Coleman. But Duffy says conflicting polling data makes it unclear who Barkley is hurting the most. As for the negative tone of Minnesota's campaign, political analysts here say they're expecting a lot more of the same.

For NPR News, I'm Mark Zdechlik in St. Paul.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Now, a quick recap of our top story today. Wall Street took another big hit, and the Dow dropped more than 500 points. The decline came as President Bush reassured Americans, as he put it, "that we've had tough times before, and we're going to come through this again." Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke also tried to calm nerves. He said today that the Fed would begin buying commercial paper in hopes of thawing credit markets.

But the announcement was not enough to stop another steep slide. On Wall Street, for comparison's sake, almost exactly a year ago, the Dow finished at an all-time high, above the 14,000 mark. Since then, it has lost more than 30 percent of its value.

Copyright © 2008 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

Support comes from: