When Senate candidate Al Franken was a comedian, a lot of his comedic appeal was visual. Just looking at him made you laugh. That goofy grin. That nasally voice. That cheeky demeanor.
Great for a comedian. Lousy for a Senate candidate.
Hey wait just a minute, my Democratic friends say, look at Reagan and Thompson. They were in show biz, and look at their success.
But there is a wee bit of a difference between actors best known for playing a District Attorney and inspirational coach and an actor best known for playing an effeminate dude in a powder blue cardigan promoting the healing powers of Children of Rageaholic Parents Anonymous.
But, my Democratic friends insist, you don’t get it because you haven’t seen Al in person. The guy is affable. Has his facts down. Looks you in the eye and really listens when you talk.
They’re right. I haven’t met the guy. But here is what they don’t get. Al can’t meet with every voter in the state, and this election will be decided by the roughly 5% of Minnesotans who will remain undecided until the final day of the campaign. Those folks don’t go to the places where they’ll meet Al one-on-one — the bean feeds, fundraisers or activist rallies.
Those undecided swing voters will give roughly as much thought to their vote as they give to what color socks they put on that morning. And they will think of that goofy grin, nasally voice, cheey demeanor and baby blue cardigan and they will worry that this is another guy who will embarrass them on the national stage the way the guy in the feather boa did. They will look at what little they know of him and say to themselves “self, that’s not a senator.”
Don’t get me wrong. I desperately want Franken or Mike Ciresi to succeed, because I think Senator Coleman is wrong on the most important issues of our day and is the worst kind of opportunist. But I’m not convinced Franken is up to the communications task.
Party Caucus-level communications is about retail appeal. Making connections one-on-one and in small groups. If Al is as good at this kind of communications as my friends say, he’ll probably get his party’s endorsement.
But General Election-level communications is about drive-by appeal. It’s about the dominant impression a candidate leaves from the 50,000 foot level on the most politically indifferent in our society. And for that kind of communications, I fear Al has the wrong stuff.