Good Enough, Smart Enough And Doggone It Undecideds Won’t Take Him Seriously

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.

– Loveland

13 thoughts on “Good Enough, Smart Enough And Doggone It Undecideds Won’t Take Him Seriously

  1. Chuck says:

    I have no horses in this race, but in watching Franken debate Ciresi on TPT Almanac a week ago, I was made physically uncomfortable about how ignorant Franken came off. This is not to say he isn’t smart – in all likelihood he’s a genius. He seems woefully uninformed when it comes to economic and Constitutional issues.

  2. Kelly Groehler says:

    Same disclaimer here. However, being “woefully uninformed when it comes to economic and Constitutional issues” fits the bill for more than several sitting senators and house representatives, doesn’t it?

  3. jloveland says:

    I have a disclaimer too: I’m enthusiastically on-board for anyone but Norm. So these are not points I make maliciously or gleefully. And I hope that I’m wrong.

  4. Chuck says:

    Franken invites Jesse Ventura-like possibilities where Minnesota again becomes the national laughingstock for six years.

    I’d rather see a more serious, traditional candidate — and not necessarily Ciresi, or a legacy name like Humphrey or Mondale. John Marti could get my attention, but he’s not militant enough for the left wing.

  5. EMM says:

    There’s a militant left wing I don’t know about? Puleeze. You’re hallucinating, or listening to BO’R again (notice how his initials sound out the word “bore”?)

    It’s neither militant nor left wing to be a progressive, to believe with all your heart that this nation is headed in the wrong direction, that it treats its elderly, its children, its vets and the less fortunate shamefully, and that while our 20-year-olds prayed fervently every time they were sent out of the Green Zone that they’d live, others such as officers of Halliburton and the royals in the House of Saud vacationed on the Continent.. after a quick trip to their Swiss bank.

    I’m calling him out. Norm Coleman has thoroughly aligned himself with this crowd his entire time in office.

  6. GH says:

    Hmm. I wonder, Joe, if some of the “wrong stuff” you fear here might be an impression of cynicism people might get from Mr. Franken’s comedian and pundit past.

    No doubt that people love cynicism and jadedness these days — it’s the lifeblood and dominant tone of so much of what’s put out on blogs and televised political discourse, for example.

    But I’m hard-pressed to think of Minnesota candidates that have packaged it successfully into votes. Wellstone railed against much of the status quo, too, but he did it within a context of passion and “hope,” if you will, that gave voters something to be “for” rather than hinging the message on simply ousting the incumbent scoundrels. Ventura less so, I guess, but he still gave enough voters a reason to back him and champion his “brand.”

    Anyway, I think one of the intriguing things to watch will be the Franken campaign’s ability to go beyond whatever anti-Coleman sentiment is out there to create a for-Franken vote.

  7. Chuck says:

    GH has correctly summarized the political plight of the entire Democratic platform – What affirmative reasons are there to vote Democratic?

    If you’re a Democrats who thinks the economy is strong, religion is OK, taxation is sufficient, that terrorism has been successfully rebuffed for six years, that borders are worth protecting, who do you vote for?

  8. jl says:

    This is when those pesky facts get in the way.

    Terrorism has increased according to the Central Intelligence Estimate — http://www.nytimes.com/2006/09/24/world/middleeast/24terror.html?ex=1316750400&en=da252be85d1b39fa&ei=5088&partner=rssnyt&emc=rss

    The economy is not exactly on fire. http://www.businessweek.com/investor/content/sep2007/pi2007097_080814.htm

    99% of Americans are net losers due to the Administration’s tax and spending policies. http://www.ctj.org/pdf/debtus.pdf

    And I challenge you to list one thing Democrats are doing to threaten religion.

  9. GH says:

    Franken’s party affiliation isn’t relevant to my point here.

    I’m simply suggesting that Franken’s campaign presents a unique challenge because of his background as a satirist — someone who deals largely in negatives.

    Coleman has relied on the “bringing people together to get things done” message. Whether you agree with that or not, it’s a positive appeal based on one interpretation of his background, to get people to back him.

    Franken’s challenge in constructing his own positive appeal, relevant to his own background, is what intrigues me here. That would be true regardless of his party.

  10. Ellen says:

    When did Coleman bring thing together to get things done? I must have missed Fox News that night.

    Norm’s slogan sounds eerily familiar to GWBush’s mantra in 2000: “I’m a uniter, not a divider.” Well, I’ve never seen our nation so divided, so mean-spirited, as its been in the past 6 years.

  11. jloveland says:

    GH, I don’t know how he could have a more positive appeal than “I’m good enough, smart enough, and doggone it people like me!”

    Seriously, GH, good point. That’s his communications challenge. And even if he can get the words of his “positive appeal” right, past experience and goofy non-verbals will distract and detract from that message.

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