The Same Rowdy Crowd

Ruminations and Fulminations on Communication


Al Franken

Dayton’s “Dog Doe”

“If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog.” That quote, falsely attributed to Harry Truman, may be on Governor Mark Dayton’s mind as the bachelor prepares to adopt his THIRD black German Shepherd.

Dayton is in the news today inviting Minnesotans to help name his adorable new pup. To give you a sense of the Governor’s naming tastes, the first two were named Mingo and Mesabi, and Dakota recently passed away.

Some of the early nominations for Dog Doe’s new name:

• From Republican Senate Majority Amy Koch: “Marx.”
• From DFL Chair Ken Martin: “Taxable.”
• From Democratic U.S. Senator Al Franken: “Smalley.”
• From accuracy challenged U.S. Rep. Michelle Bachmann: “Cat.”
• From Minnesota Democrats Exposed blog: “Dog of Satan.”
• From Former Governor Tim Pawlenty: “President Pawlenty.”
• From MN Independence Party Chairman Mark Jenkins: “None of the Above.”
• From GOP Chair Tony Sutton: “Target Practice.”
• From South Dakota Governor Dennis Daugaard: “Overtaxed.”
• From Governor’s Mansion neighbor: “ANOTHER?!”

Okay, surely you can do better. Nominations are open.

– Loveland

In Praise of “Irascible” and Even “Nasty”.


– The Mgmt.


“The Minnesota Compromise” on Health Reform?

In the health reform debate, the Senate is split between “public option,” and “private only.” It’s reminiscent of the mid-19th century, when the split was “slave” versus “free,” and the Senate ultimately landed on middle ground, the Missouri Compromise of 1850.

In the waning days of 2009, the Senate is once again desperately searching for middle ground. For instance, some Democratic compromisers propose dropping the public option in favor of expanding eligibility of Medicare and Medicaid.

But as Minnesota Democrats look for that elusive middle ground, they, like Kansas’s Dorothy, are effectively arguing that “there’s no place like home.” Call it the Minnesota Compromise of 2010. Minnesota Senator Al Franken and Congressman Keith Ellison are pressing an amendment mandating that all health plans emulate Minnesota health plans and spend 90% of consumers’ premiums on care costs, rather than administrative and salary costs.

The Minnesota Compromise – my term, not theirs — is ideological middle ground that would require any health plan to match the efficiency of the nation’s most efficient plans. According to Minnpost:

Non-profit health plans in Minnesota spend an average of 91 percent of premium costs directly on health care. Franken’s office said the national average is around 70 percent, with large plans spending considerably more percentage-wise on average, and individual plans less.

Under this Minnesota Compromise, corporate health plans would have to get as administratively lean as the nation’s leanest plans. Business-as-usual wouldn’t be tolerated, but there would still be a way to do business.

Continue reading ““The Minnesota Compromise” on Health Reform?”

News Flash: Franken on Daily Show, And Is NOT Butt of Joke

Jon Stewart Takes On 30 Republicans Who Voted Against Franken Rape Amendment (VIDEO)-1You may recall that Senate candidate Al Franken had a bit of political trouble because of his SNL days brainstorming jokes about rape. Not his proudest moment.

So it’s not a big surprise that Senator Al is putting an early focus on building a legislative record of being decidedly anti-rape.

While Franken’s anti-rape loophole bill might not be surprising, even jaded Joe is surprised that the majority of Republicans opposed his proposal.

– Loveland

‘We are extremely reserved right up until we walk up to the ballot box’

On the heels of Al Franken’s Minnesota State Supreme Court victory, David Carr has a great piece in the Times attempting to explain how Franken’s just-odd-enough persona fits well into the realm of Minnesota politics.

Yes, Minnesotans vote like crazy. At 77.8 percent, the state had the highest turnout in last year’s very busy presidential election. But yes, sometimes Minnesotans’ votes seem just plain crazy as well.

Other states, other voters, express alienation by staying home on Election Day. But Minnesotans take a more civic approach to their estrangement, showing up at the polls and replacing the bums with some choices that scan as odd from a distance. (We might mention that the Minnesota state bird is actually a loon, but there is other less avian evidence of Minnesotans’ idiosyncrasy.)

In Minnesota, there is a kind of populist approach that is less progressive than a reflex, a notion that politics belongs to citizens, and politicians only rent their positions.

The rest here.

If we’re as politically engaged as we seem to be, won’t the potential loss of a seat in Congress be devastating? I’m not excited about the prospect of less representation, but watching the cross-district battles that would ensue if we turned it down to seven would be a blast.

Senator Al Franken

In case you haven’t heard, former Minnesota U.S. Senator Norm Coleman has conceded his seat to Al Franken, following a unanimous state supreme court today in Franken’s favor. A thriller? Or a yawn?

Just Because Norm’s Appeal Reeks Doesn’t Mean It’s Wrong

(Guest post from Joe Loveland)

Defending an extension of the ceaseless Minnesota Senate recount is about as popular as defending an extension of the sitcom Cavemen.

But count me in. I support Senator Coleman’s appeal questioning whether absentee ballots were judged by varying standards in the counties.scales-of-justice

By the way, this is not to say that I think the appeal is wise from a PR and political standpoint. If the Senator wants to score sorely needed PR points, he obviously should pull out with a teary eyed “for the good of the state” speech. If he some day wants to run for Governor, or even Soil and Water Conservation District, he should pull out. Heck, if he just wants to avoid a stoning in the public square – and I’m not talking about the Hofstra kind of stoning, dude – he should pull out.

But if differing election law standards have been applied to the absentee ballots in the various counties, Senator Coleman certainly has the right to raise that question in the appeals court. In fact, he has a responsibility to do it.

Look, I don’t want to go all powder wiggy on you here, but there is a pretty good reason we have a Constitution. We have a Constitution to ensure that, among other things, the the laws passed by various jurisdictions are applied in a way that give us equal protection. The equal protection clause of the Constitution says that my vote gets the same protections in Ramsey County that voters in all other counties get. No less protection. No more protection. Equal protection.

If it is true, as Coleman alleges, that absentee ballots having X, Y and Z characteristics were counted in some counties, but excluded in others, that would seem to be counter to the Constitution and the principal of equality.

Those discrepancies must be corrected. Even if sorting it out means I don’t get my heaping helpin’ of Senate representation for another few months. Even if, heaven forbid, the appeal ultimately means I get the lesser of the two dweebs as my Senator.

Does my support for Coleman’s appeal mean I relish more time observing the recount’s ridiculous brand of kabuki theater? It most certainly does not. But the election must be decided based on constitutional applications of the law, not by the relative entertainment value of the proceedings, as defined by the impatient masses.

Does this mean I think that election officials in some counties stole the election from Coleman. Absolutely not. If there are differeing standards, I have no reason to believe that they aren’t honest mistakes. But honest mistakes can disenfranchise as surely as corruption.

Does this mean I see no problem with Minnesota being underrepresented in the U.S. Senate? Nope. I agree, that it’s a big problem. And if Coleman is appealing simply to truncate Franken’s term and increase the slope of Obama’s policymaking climb, he may be earning himself a non-term limited seat in Hades.

Does it mean that I think there is merit to Coleman’s equal protection argument? No. From my place in the cheap seats, I can’t know whether there is merit. I don’t have access to the evidence, and such a determination is above my pay grade. But if the possibility exists, I want the courts to sort it out, and give me maximum confidence in our election system. Because this is an issue that really matters.

Finally, does my support of Senator Coleman’s appeal mean that I think he is a righteous champion of the Constitution and fair electioneering. No way. Based on what I’ve seen from Coleman over the years, this is a guy who will do whatever it takes to cling to power. It is very likely that he is snuggling up to an equal protection defense simply because it is his last best hope for preserving his membership in the world’s most exclusive club.

But just because the appeal reeks, doesn’t mean it’s wrong.


Political Gymnastics

backflip2Senator Norm Coleman, in possession of a narrow electoral lead the day after Election Day, November 6, 2008:

“I would step back (from challenging election results). I just think the need for the healing process is so important.”

Former Senator Norm Coleman’s attorney, facing a narrow deficit after a recount, January 5, 2008:

“I have no reason at this time … to believe we aren’t going to be contesting this thing if we’re down at the end of the day.”

– Loveland

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A Fresh Start for Al

al_franken2A keen observation from Captain Obvious: Al Franken has an image problem.

During the campaign voters heard and read the recovering comedian using naughty words, brainstorming jokes about rape, and occasionally stretching the truth in relentless criticism of his opponent. And there is residual damage. Lots of it.

Well, New Years is the season of renewal. So, today Al Franken should start his post-campaign reputation transition from campaign attack dog to thoughtful leader of all Minnesotans. He can begin that process by issuing a statement that goes something like this:

Based on my narrow lead in the recount, many of my supporters in Washington and Minnesota are calling for me to be seated in the Senate.

While I appreciate their support, I would ask them to cool their jets.

I have said from the beginning that we should be respectful of this process, and let it play out completely. I have said the integrity of this process is more important than whether I win or lose.

And I meant it. Sincerely. My concern for the integrity of our democratic processes doesn’t change just because I have a slim lead, and just because there are bad feelings left over from a brutal campaign. We still have to let this process play out completely, and that includes Senator Coleman’s legal challenges. Legal challenges are a legitimate part of this process. While I strongly dispute the content of those challenges, I strongly support the Senator’s right to make them.

So, let’s count the votes, and let the entire judicial appeal process play out. Believe me, nobody is more anxious about bringing this process to an end than me. But to bring Minnesota together, it is much more important that we have a complete and fair process that Minnesotans can believe in than whether I enter the Senate next week, the following week, or ever.

Exhibiting a little statesmanship and selflessness would go a long way for Franken right now. Frankly, I’m not sure he has it in him. Jesse Ventura never had it in him, and it cost him in the long run. Franken would be helping both himself and the state by calling off the partisan dogs for another few weeks.

Now just like the salad I’m having for lunch today won’t make up for my gluttonous sins over the past month, such a statement wouldn’t make up for all the gripes Minnesotans have with Franken. But like all New Years resolutions, it would give him a shot at a fresh start.

– Loveland

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The Importance of The Right Messenger

Most of the public relations around the U.S. Senate recount has come in the form of dueling flack attacks. The Franken campaign has been at least as over-the-top as the Coleman campaign, including its gratuitous mention in today’s recount briefing of the Kazeminy-Coleman FBI investigation. (Holy kitchen sink strategy, what does Kazeminy have to do with the recount??)

But I have to say the Franken campaign did some kick ass communications work yesterday when it released this video of voters who allegedly had their absentee ballots rejected illegally.

Whatever you think about the substance of the issue, this shows the importance of using the most sympathetic available messenger. When Franken’s lawyers make a legal argument about these ballots, eyes roll. But when average Minnesotans tell their personal stories around the very same issue, more eyes are opened.

Instead of using legal abstractions, this tactic uses human reactions. Instead of coming from courtrooms, it comes from livingrooms. Instead of using spreadsheets, it uses stories. Instead of coming from the head, it comes from the heart.

The messenger is the message. This is what good communications work looks like.

– Loveland

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You Be the Judge…

ballot-challengeKudos to the Star Tribune for giving us regular folks a peek at what a ballot challenge looks like. They have scanned all 2,633 challenged ballots and presented them in an easy-to-use, “You Make the Call” format. I reviewed 42 ballots and gave 18 to each Franken and Coleman and put six others aside as either ineligible, indeterminable or voting for another candidate.

– Austin multi level marketing nice

Spinning, Out of Control

A few weeks ago, Senator Norm Coleman called for an end to attack ads, after benefiting from them for months. Yesterday, Senator Coleman called for an end to frivolous ballot challenges, after piling them up for days.


‘…in the spirit of the holidays, and to give respect to this process that it deserves, we ask you to join us tomorrow morning in standing down in the game of ballot challenge one upmanship,’ said a letter sent to the Franken campaign late Tuesday from Coleman recount attorney Fritz Knaak.”

Today, look for the Senator to call for the Green Bay Packers to suspend the remainder of their season, after the Vikings have moved ahead of them in the standings.

On so many things, Senator Coleman’s spin machine is just too cute by half. Why can’t he understand that he looks like a huckster when he bombs Pearl Harbor one day and calls for an armistice the next? He just can’t have it both ways.

I’m not saying Franken is more pure when it comes to attack ads and vote challenges. Clearly, he’s not. But at least he’s not spinning out these hypocritical “can’t we all just get along” sermonettes.

In a race this tight, Minnesotans understand why both Coleman and Franken are fighting for every possible vote. But they need to understand that nobody is buying it when they act like recount Rambos at the counting tables, and good government Ghandis at their news conferences.

– Loveland

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whistleblower-c2bb-blog-archive-c2bb-one-challenge-headed-to-the-state-so-far-in-plymouthA Coleman vote? A Coleman crossout? Nervous doodling while agonizing over a vexing Soil and Water Conservation District Commissioner vote? Hebrew script for “the New York Jew?” A cerebrovascular event?

Only the State Canvassing Board knows for sure. Talk about your “ruminations and fulminations on communications.”

As bad as your job may be today, here’s a little reminder that it could be much, much worse. Accordingly, let’s all bow our heads, fold our hands and express thanks that we aren’t trapped in a musky courthouse basement squabbling about the true meaning of 2.4 million squiggles with hyperventilating hacks.

– Loveland

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Mainstream Media Illuminating the Recount

coleman-franken-margin2pptThe Crowd takes a lot of shots at the mainstream news media, so I need to recognize the terrific job reporters are doing covering the confusing and poorly understood world of recounts. Statewide recounts don’t happen very often, so few of us understand them. But shining a light on them is obviously very important in a democracy. The stakes are high, and the margin for error is slim.

The more I learn about the issue, the more I’m starting to think Al Franken has a legitimate shot. Reasons:

Continue reading “Mainstream Media Illuminating the Recount”

Political TV Ad Retrospective: The Java Jive Validated

About 673 billion years ago (back in February), my friend Loveland wrote a favorable critique of Al Franken’s now-famous “Mrs. Molin” ad.

Ignoring Loveland’s fine analysis, I commented uselessly:

You know what’s the real star of political TV advertising?


Case in point: Here you see the candidate holding a pot of coffee and pouring coffee into a coffee mug. I presume there’s another mug for his wife, because there’s a half-pot left. Then, a bit later, it’s the candidate talking with the concerned parents — and all three have a nice cup of coffee before them.a_small_cup_of_coffee

Then, in June, Loveland dissected and thumbed-up the now-famous Norm Coleman ad in which he takes out the trash at his wife’s behest. I withheld comment at the time, but had I done so it would have been about the coffee. It’s everywhere in this one, too — being held, poured, consumed, beloved.

Now, there’s this, released late last month by researchers at Yale (emphasis mine):

Our judgment of a person’s character can be influenced by something as simple as the warmth of the drink we hold in our hand.

In the current issue of the journal Science, Yale University psychologists show that people judged others to be more generous and caring if they had just held a warm cup of coffee and less so if they had held an iced coffee. In a second study, they showed people are more likely to give something to others if they had just held something warm and more likely take something for themselves if they held something cold.

“It appears that the effect of physical temperature is not just on how we see others, it affects our own behavior as well,” (Yale psychology professor John A.) Bargh said. “Physical warmth can make us see others as warmer people, but also cause us to be warmer – more generous and trusting – as well.”

I knew it!

Now then.  I know what you’re saying. You’re saying, “Hold it. This study doesn’t imply that a person viewing a Coffee-Holding Other Person is inclined to view the Coffee-Holding Other Person more favorably. It’s saying the opposite — that a Coffee-Holding Person is inclined to view others more favorably.”

Sticklers. Of course you’re right. But it’s close enough, so let’s go ahead and make the extrapolation. Look for the 2010 ads to feature candidates carrying five-gallon boiling cauldrons with both hands. unsecured business loans nice

Judicial Jujutsu

Lawsuits are flying around the Minnesota Senate race right and left today.

LAWSUIT #1: First, the Huffington Post reports that a lawsuit in Texas against Coleman alleged that a family friend provided $75,000 to the Senator’s family through the friend’s business. If true, that would be a very big deal, but this lawsuit has apparently been withdrawn.

LAWSUIT #2: According to news accounts, Coleman’s has filed a lawsuit alleging he was defamed by Franken, because Franken said Coleman was ranked the fourth most corrupt Member of Congress by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW).

Which lawsuit is righteous, and which is frivolous? I have no idea.

It’s worth noting that Coleman has filed similar suits against Senator Paul Wellstone and Attorney General Hubert Humphrey in the waning days of past campaigns, so there’s a fighting chance that this lawsuit may be more about winning in the court of public opinion than winnning in a court of law.

But Franken did seem to make a factual error. Apparently CREW said Coleman was one of the 20 most corrupt Members of Congress (out of 535), a fact Coleman doesn’t seem to dispute. But Coleman does dispute that CREW specifically ranked him fourth.

And lots of crazy lawsuits get filed against incumbents like Coleman in the final week of campaigns, and there is a good chance that the Texas suit lacks merit as well.

Merit aside, I do find this back-and-forth interesting from a public relations standpoint.

First, does it really help Coleman to call in the news media to essentially declare “how dare my opponent say I’ve been named fourth most corrupt, when I’ve only been named as one the 20 most corrupt?!” Is shining the light on a corruption ranking ever a good idea?

Second, if Coleman is innocent, shouldn’t he deny the allegations? Might the mum and run routine (see videoclip above) feed a perception of guilt at a delicate political hour?

Finally, shouldn’t the Star Tribune mention both the pro- and anti-Coleman lawsuits in its coverage? In the current on-line story, only the anti-Franken lawsuit is mentioned.

– Loveland

Post-post postscript: Since the original post, the Star Tribune has published a separate story by investigative reporters Paul McEnroe and Tony Kennedy about the anti-Coleman lawsuit. Hence, the deletion above. The Pioneer Press did a story on the anti-Franken lawsuit, but not the anti-Coleman lawsuit. vat invoice nice

Victoria’s Secret

In a star-studded pro-Norm Coleman NRSC attack ad, ex-Saturday Night Live cast member Victoria Jackson paints Al Franken as being unfit for celebrity endorsements, noting “We don’t all write dirty jokes for Playboy.”

True enough. But it’s also worth noting that celebrities don’t all label U.S. Senators as “the anti-Christ,” which is what Ms. Jackson apparently has written about Senator Barack Obama, according to the Huffington Post:

“I don’t want a political label,” she wrote on her website, “but Obama bears traits that resemble the anti- Christ and I’m scared to death that un- educated people will ignorantly vote him into office.”

Later in the posting she wrote: “We must in all seriousness ask if Barack Hussein Obama could be a Muslim terrorist sympathizer or a Marxist mole. His closest friends include Communists, domestic and Muslim terrorists, racists and convicted felons. In his book Audacity of Hope, Barack Hussein Obama says, ‘I will stand with the Muslims should the political winds shift in an ugly direction.” (emphasis added)

Senator Coleman, with all due respect, this is your character witness?

– Loveland

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Election Night Prep: Senate Curtain Raiser

While the Minnesota Senate race has generated a fair amount of visibility, Senate races overall have been mostly ignored across the nation as the presidential contest has sucked up nearly all of the oxygen in the room.  That’s too bad, because there’s an interesting macro story there as well as a number of fascinating local races worth watching.  As you settle in for a long evening of election viewing next Tuesday, here’s a quick snapshot of what to look for in these races and an overall story that will unfold all across the nation and may make it worth waiting up to see what happens in far-flung Alaska.

The Big Picture: The Democrats currently have a 51-49 advantage in the Senate.  That majority is about as thin as possible because it is achieved through the support of Joe Lieberman, Independent (and McCain supporter) of Connecticut, and Bernie Sanders, Independent of Vermont.

Continue reading “Election Night Prep: Senate Curtain Raiser”

Of Barkley, The Basics And Beer Slogans

I have two favorite beer slogans.

One was the slogan of the former Walter’s Brewery of Eau Claire, Wis.

“The Beer That is Beer.”

Tough to argue with that.

The second was from the…ah, let’s just let Edd Kalehoff bring it.

Doesn’t mince words, does it? (By the way, you can chuckle a bit at the goofiness of that, but this guy has written more TV theme songs and commercial jingles than you can shake more than one Schaefer at, and is, presumably, doing quite well.)

I thought of this while scanning the Bloomberg story that came out this morning about the Minnesota U.S. Senate race and Independence Party candidate Dean Barkley.

Barkley, 58, has changed the dynamic by turning the race into a dead heat. In a survey conducted by Quinnipiac University Oct. 8-12, Franken was ahead of Coleman by 2 percentage points, within the poll’s 3-point margin of error. Barkley, running this year on the Independence Party of Minnesota ticket, polled 18 percent, drawing almost equally from Democrats and Republicans.

And later…

[Barkley] said [former Minnesota Governor Jesse] Ventura never polled higher than 27 percent in his successful campaign and if he can break the 20 percentage-point level this year, “People start to think: `My God, maybe he can win.”’

Hmm. My colleagues here have played political copywriter off and on this election season, and I don’t think we’ve done one for Barkley yet. So I’ll have a go. If you’re Barkley, how do you stoke a viral fire and build a two-week bandwagon? I wonder. Perhaps, with Coleman’s and Franken’s unfavorables being what they are, you get really simple with the weary electorate and riff off the old Walter’s slogan. Something like….

None of the attacks.
None of the money.
None of the controversy.

None of the above. 
Dean Barkley: The Candidate Who Is Not The Other Candidates

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Stormin’ Norman Transformin’ To Reformin’ Norman

Senator Norm Coleman for the past nine months when his opponent’s rebuttals were non-existent or lame:

“My opponent is a tax evader. My opponent is a pornographer. My opponent committed assault. My opponent is a raving maniac.”

Coleman now that his opponent’s rebuttals have started to sting:

“Can’t we all just get along?”

– Loveland

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How Low Can You Go?

Remember the ad for Norm Coleman spotlighting Al Franken screaming out-of-control with veins popping out of his neck, looking like a raging maniac? The ads said that Norm’s opponent Al Franken was unfit to represent us, because he couldn’t control his temper.

You may be shocked to learn this, but Norm was messing with Minnesotans.

Senator Coleman took footage of his opponent sharing a touching and humorous memory about a dead friend, and chopped it up it to look like evidence that the opponent was deranged. Even by the low standards of modern politics, THAT is small.

– Loveland

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Coleman Goes For Heartstrings

Clinton went with “don’t stop thinking about tomorrow.” W 1.0 sold an inspiring vision of “compassionate conservativsm.” Bush senior foresaw a “kinder gentler nation” under his leadership. The Gipper promised that “it’s morning in America” with him in charge.

So, what motivation or vision do you offer when the economy and national reputation have tanked under your watch, and your president, party and institution have rock bottom approval ratings?

Poor Norm Coleman is going with perhaps the puniest, least inspiring campaign slogan I’ve ever heard:“He’d make things worse.”

I kid you not. This ad is tagged with the theme “he’d make things worse.” As Obamaniacs are thundering “Yes we can” at mega-rallies across the nation, I can hear the beleaguered Colemaniacs chanting: “He’d make things worse, he’d make things worse.”

What, “I suck a bit less” was copyrighted?

– Loveland

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Up by 9 or 10…

Back-to-back polls paint a very different picture of the Minnesota Senate Race. On Thursday, the KSTP/Survey USA survey put Senator Coleman up by 10 points, 43-33, over Al Franken:

Today, the Star-Tribune tells us that it’s actually Franken leading by a substantial margin, 43-34, over Coleman.


Every poll has a margin of error, of course, and some of what we’re seeing could be just that.  The KSTP survey was conducted among 725 likely voters between September 30th and October 1st. The margin of error is 3.7 percentage points at 95% confidence level. The Star-Tribune survey was done between September 30th through October 2nd among 1,084 likely voters.  Like the KSTP survery, the Strib’s margin of error is 3.7 percentage points at 95% confidence level.  In other words, both maintain that if their survey were conducted a 100 times, the results obtained would be within 3.7 percent of the reported results 95 times.  Theoretically, it’s within the margin of error for Coleman to be leading 39.3-36.7 in the KSTP poll and Franken to be leading 39.3-37.7 in the Strib’s polling.

Maybe somebody with more technical knowledge of polling than me can weigh in on how survey size affects the margin of error; the Star Tribune‘s sample was nearly 50 percent bigger but both polls claim a 3.7 percent margin of error.

What isn’t contradictory, however, is the dramatic improvement in the standings of Independent candidate Dean Barkley who in both survery is showing support in the high teens.  In the KSTP survey, that support seems to be hurting Franken far more than Coleman.  It’s also clear, too, from the KSTP survey at least, that Mr. Franken is not benefitting from the advantage with women Democrats tend to enjoy.

It’d be interesting to see the internals from the Strib survey as well.

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Coleman’s Crimes

Call me old fashioned, but when a candidate falsely accuses his opponent of being a criminal, I think voters should get outraged. And that’s exactly what Senator Norm Coleman and the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) are doing when they falsely accuse challenger Al Franken of “physically attacking a heckler,” which criminal prosecutors like to call “assault,” a crime punishable by up to 20 years in prison.

Here’s the background on the Coleman charge: A Star Tribune gossip columnist reported in January that Franken was allegedly rude to a college student asking him questions. To the best of my knowledge, Franken never assaulted this student or other hecklers. And if merely engaging in impolite debate were a crime, I think we all know that the Same Rowdy Crowd would be awash in orange jumpsuits.

But, of course, being impolite is not a crime, something former prosecutor Coleman knows. KSTP-TV has reported that the assault accusation is false, and generously gave the pro-Coleman ad a D minus grade.

But that’s not the end of Coleman’s false criminal prosecutions. Coleman and the NRSC have also claimed that Franken “hasn’t paid taxes,” which is also a criminal act that lands loads of people in jail. However, unless I’m missing something, Franken paid his taxes, but in the wrong jurisdictions, which is substantially different than “hasn’t paid taxes.” That’s why local tax evader Robert Beale is headed to jail, and Franken is merely refiling in the correct jurisdictions.

Other pro-Coleman ads have used grotesque grammatical tricks to imply Franken criminality, such as when they say ‘Franken writes about committing rape,’ which could easily sound to voters like Franken committed rape and then wrote about it. The truth is that Franken told a crude joke in private about an outrageously hypothetical rape, which incidentally is also allegedly true of the Coleman-endorsed John McCain. While the Republicans’ grammatical gymnastics is not technically inaccurate, it has a strong stench to it.

And then, of course, there is the closing of this ad, which MinnPost has pointed out is designed to look as if Franken were in prison.

So, let’s recap. Franken has been accused by the former criminal prosecutor Coleman and the NRSC of committing assault and tax evasion, crimes that would land him in jail and disquality him from service. But Franken has not committed any crimes. Again, rudeness, crude humor and crappy book-keeping are completely different than the crimes of assault, rape and tax evasion.

Coleman hasn’t committed any crimes either. But there should be an electoral penalty for the shameless rhetorical offenses he and the NRSC are committing.

– Loveland

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What Would Wellstone Do?

Those of us in the Cities can’t hardly turn on the TV without bumping into an anti-Franken commercial from either Norm or the Republican Senatorial committee.  I’m assuming these are both running outstate as well:

Team Coleman has followed this up with a “kinder, gentler” attack ad of the “more in sorrow than anger” genre:

What, if anything, should Al be doing to counter the charge that he’s an out-of-control wacko (which is what the ads are going for)?

Brother Loveland has already authored a couple of recommendations for Franken ads and strategies better than anything I’ve actually seen from Team Franken; while I don’t think I can play at his level, here’s the ad I think Al should be running in the very near future:

“Hi, I’m Al Franken.  Like my political heroes, Paul Wellstone and Hubert Humphrey, I’m passionate about fighting for working men and women and for changing the way Washington works.  As Senator Wellstone said, “Politics is about the improvement of people’s lives. It’s about advancing the cause of peace and justice in our country and the world. Politics is about doing well for the people.”  Those are principles worth getting excited about and I ask for your vote this election day so I can work every day on behalf of Minnesota to make them a reality.  Thank you.”

– Austin freedom tax fine

Norm and Hockey: Is the Power Play Finally Expiring?

Senator Norm Coleman’s acting troupe of “bowlers” have been frantically reminding Minnesotans that Coleman “brought hockey back.” Today, real Minnesotans are reminding us of more important things they wish Coleman would have brought back.

In other campaign news, today’s Star Tribune poll shows that Franken’s attacks on Coleman have largely neutralized the tax charges and goofball eruptions that have dogged Franken all year. Franken and Coleman now are suffering equally crappy disapproval ratings.

As I suggested a while back, this back-and-fort will benefit the vanilla flavored None-of-the-Above Party candidate Dean Barkley. But the Frankenoids had to go goon-for-goon with the hard-checking Colemanistas, or Franken would have been toothless down the stretch.

Better news for Franken is the finding that 62% of Minnesotans say that Coleman is “someone who usually goes along with what President Bush wants,” while only 26% believe he is an independent thinker. Coleman’s entire campaign has been focused on selling his alleged independence, and hiding from his historic Bush loyalty. That clearly isn’t selling. Franken is battered and bloodied, but he’s back on the ice.

– Loveland

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Political Alchemy

Tracking polls are showing that a presidential candidate who supports President Bush 90% of the time is convincing voters he is the best option to reverse Bush policies. Given that piece of political alchemy, it may be reasonable to expect that Norm Coleman – the guy who made a name in DC by traveling the country bashing Democrats as part of Bush’s “Truth Squad” – can reframe himself as the preeminent non-partisan.

Senator Coleman’s latest bowling ad:

– Loveland tax rebate fine

Al’s Rationale

Before the first Tuesday in November, Minnesota U.S. Senate candidate Al Franken has three primary messaging To-Dos to accomplish: 1) Wrestle the ethics issue to neutral; 2) Prove that Norm Coleman has been a Bush loyalist; and 3) Convince swing voters that Franken is an acceptable alternative.

In terms of countering ethics charges, Franken has been very active. A recent ad framed his own tax problems as an honest mistake, and then spotlighted charges about Senator Coleman’s allegedly shady Capitol Hill housing arrangement. A sequel ad employed a talking fish — perhaps a first in political advertising history — to tie his opponent to indicted Alaska Senator Ted Stevens and his merry band of gift-giving lobbyists.

As I’ve said before, Franken’s ads won’t make voters completely forget about his ethics problems, but they don’t have to. Franken’s intention with these ads is to get enough voters to the point of thinking “yeah, both candidates have imperfect ethics, so I have to decide based on something else.” If Franken can accomplish that, he still has a shot, because this is one of the best election years for Democrats in recent memory. I maintain Franken should have disarmed the tax mistakes by offering a prompt and thorough explanation, and sincere apology, but these ads are helping a bit.

Enter the second To-Do: Tying Bush to Coleman. Coleman’s centerpiece reelection argument is that he is “bringing people together to solve problems.” That is a faux non-partisan appeal to non-partisan swing voters. Franken needs to disarm Coleman’s claim by proving that Coleman has been in lockstep with the most unpopular and partisan Presidents of our times, something Franken does pretty well in his most recent ad:

Unlike most of Franken’s ads, this one is both strategic and unique enough to stand out in the sea of nearly identical cookie cutter political commercials washing into our family rooms. It’s just entertaining enough that it won’t get completely tuned out, and it may actually get discussed at the water cooler.

The third to-do – proving that Franken is an acceptable alternative — began early in the campaign, but the Frankenoids will need to close with some more soft stuff to sell the acceptability of Franken.

Franken’s got a long ways to go in less than two months, but he is finally on-track.

– Loveland

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While courageous leaders in the Middle East recruit children to be their suicide bombers, thank goodness we live in a nation where our courageous leaders only recruit children to be their political bombers.

– Loveland

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What if we held a blockbuster Senate race and no investigative reporters showed up to cover it?

Regurgitation of polls, attack news conferences and ads. That’s mostly what we have seen in the coverage of the Minnesota Senate race.

We’re continually told that this is the most intriguing senatorial campaign in the nation. But the coverage has been almost entirely focused on transcribing the predictable spin of campaign hacks. Yawn. That kind of “he said, he said” coverage is necessary, but not sufficient.

Beyond WCCO-TV’s often excellent Reality Check analyses, there have been almost no examples of enterprising journalists proactively digging deeper than the daily spin. Goodness knows, there is room to dig…

• Since experience has been a central issue, reporters could dig into the backgrounds of current and past U.S. Senators who started their careers with political resumes as thin as Franken’s. How did such political novices actually perform in the Senate?

• Since Norm Coleman has made “respect for women” a central attack on Al Franken and both Franken and Coleman have chosen to prominently feature spouses in ads, ask Norm Coleman and Al Franken whether they’ve been faithful to their wives. Ask them whether they think philanderers such as John Edwards and Rudy Giuliani are fit to be approved by the Senate to serve in a presidential Administration.

• Corner good ole Mrs. Molin, the endorsing teacher featured from Franken’s ads, and ask Alan’s most compelling endorser whether she condemns or condones Franken’s past writings and business dealings.

• Determine whether the bowlers portayed by Coleman ads as the voice of ordinary Minnesotans are a) ordinary (or actors trying to act ordindary), b) Minnesotan (or “outsiders”) and c) regular bowlers.

• At every news conference or interview, no matter the subject, ask Al Franken to thoroughly document whether he owes additional back taxes, beyond those he has disclosed. Repeatedly and prominently report the extent to which Franken is responsive to such inquiries.

• Commission an objective market analysis by an independent real estate consultant to determine whether Norm Coleman is paying a market rate to his political consultant for his Washington, DC apartment.

• Dig into the Franken and Coleman campaigns’ “opposition research.” How is the dirt used against the opponent gathered, who gathers it, and how much has each campaign invested in digging through dirty laundry?

The list goes on. So much of this story is going untold. So much of what we are fed in reactive coverage of the daily spin makes us no wiser in the voting booth. We aren’t even getting regular blurbs probing the relative veracity of political advertising, a Minnesota version of

With newsrooms thinning and less space reserved for political coverage, is the age of enterprising political reporting ending?

– Loveland

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