Republicans promised to make funnyman Al Franken a one-term senator, but look who’s laughing now. The Minnesota Democrat looked to be a top GOP pickoff target next year after his agonizing seven-month recount and legal battle put him in the Senate in 2009 by a mere 312 votes. Yet, in a turnabout few could’ve predicted, Franken has yet to draw a Republican opponent. The GOP looks likely to choose between relatively unknown state legislators, inexperienced businessmen or a conservative radio host with a history of controversial statements.
Franken’s success so far fending off a serious challenger speaks to the broader recruitment challenge Republicans face in 2014. To have a shot at overcoming the Democrats’ 10-seat Senate advantage, the GOP needs to expand the map by putting seats like Franken’s in play. But the party to date has struggled to find top-flight candidates in several states that should, at least on paper, be competitive.
The Udall cousins elected in 2008 — Mark in Colorado and Tom in New Mexico — look safe. And no top-tier GOP candidate has announced yet in Michigan, New Hampshire or Iowa. Democrats are defending seats in seven red states carried by Mitt Romney last year, but Republicans are highly unlikely to run the table in those places.
Franken, the former “Saturday Night Live” star and liberal talk show host, worked overtime to put himself in this position. Studiously following the Hillary Clinton Senate playbook, Franken has kept his head down, largely avoided national press and focused on populist issues like privacy and consumer protection. He has cultivated a reputation as a serious lawmaker and amassed a formidable war chest. Also of help: Minnesota — genuinely purple a decade ago — has taken on a more bluish hue. And the state Republican Party is reeling, debt-ridden and seeking to find its way after its Ron Paul-affiliated Senate nominee lost to Sen. Amy Klobuchar by 34 points in November.
Polling released last week pegs Franken’s approval rating just above the 50 percent threshold, key for an incumbent. The Democratic firm Public Policy Polling showed him starting with a double-digit lead over six potential Republican candidates.
keyboard shortcuts: V vote up article J next comment K previous comment