A handful of scary political possibilities worry Minnesota Democrats. They fret that the base won’t turn out this year, that conservative groups will blanket the state in negative ads, and that the Affordable Care Act will weigh down the ticket.
But Sen. Al Franken is not taking chances, pouring millions of dollars into his reelection campaign even though his seat is widely considered safe and a formidable Republican opponent has yet to emerge.
On paper, Franken’s campaign has spent more than $15 million so far, making the Minnesota race one of the most expensive contests this cycle, ahead of closely watched campaigns in Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, and North Carolina, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
It’s also not surprising, Democrats say, because Franken won his first race in 2008 by just 312 votes, narrowly edging out former GOP Sen. Norm Coleman even as President Obama carried Minnesota by 10 percentage points. The recount, which stretched into 2009, plus campaign debts, help explain the $15 million. If those costs are factored out, spending is closer to $7.5 million, Franken’s camp points out.
Even so, Franken is in for a high-spending campaign, given that the average winning Senate effort spent about $10.4 million in 2012, that Franken’s campaign still had almost $5 million in the bank in December and that the election is still more than half a year away.
The expenses are justified, Democrats say, to ward off Republicans and prevent another anxiety-inducing recount.
“Anyone who would suggest this race is over nine months early is fooling themselves,” said Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party Chairman Ken Martin. “Even if you would say this isn’t a competitive race right now, they’re doing the things they need to do to keep it from becoming a competitive race. That’s why you spend the money.”
Franken’s campaign stresses that it is spending at such a high clip to send a signal to conservative outside groups like Americans for Prosperity, which is jabbing Democratic incumbent Kay Hagan in North Carolina.
“The best way to combat those attacks and keep Sen. Franken in the Senate fighting for middle-class Minnesotans is to invest early and build a strong grassroots infrastructure,” campaign spokeswoman Alexandra Fetissoff said in a statement.
A former Saturday Night Live writer, comedian, and author, who recently held a fundraiser with Jon Hamm of Mad Men fame in Minneapolis, Franken rakes in cash from both deep-pocketed stars and small donors. His campaign touts the fact that 97 percent of his contributions so far this year have been for $100 or less.
When it comes to spending, Franken has laid out a great deal on fundraising itself (it takes money to raise money). The prospect that the Democratic base could stay home in November means that Franken has also spent heavily on field operations and building infrastructure across the state, Martin said.
If turnout is a worry, then former Democratic Rep. Tim Penny of Minnesota validates that concern. Penny, who served from 1983 to 1994, said he intends to stay out of the Senate race, not because he doesn’t like Franken, but because of political fatigue.
“They’re spending mega-millions,” Penny said. “I’m just done with it. They’ll find their money somewhere.”
By contrast, Franken’s GOP opponents have raised and spent far less.
Businessman Mike McFadden, who has the backing of several establishment Republicans including Coleman, raised roughly $1.5 million and spent about $541,000 so far this cycle. State Sen. Julianne Ortman, who recently won a party straw poll, has raised more than a quarter of a million dollars and spent about $117,000.
Rather than shooting at each other, both Republicans have taken aim at Franken.
“If that much has been spent in this race, it’s been spent ineffectively,” Ortman said. Added McFadden spokesman Tom Erickson: “Money doesn’t win elections. Ideas do. … Ideas are what’s gonna matter most in this race.”
Like their national counterparts, Minnesota Republicans are focusing their attacks on Obamacare. With Obama’s approval rating hovering in the mid-40s in blue Minnesota according to a recent Star Tribune poll, it’s unclear whether Franken will appear with the president when he’s in Minnesota this week.
What is less murky, though, is that Franken isn’t leaving much to chance this time around.
“His spending patterns reflect the fact that national races are volatile these days,” said former Democratic state legislator Matt Entenza. “I think the fact that he’s spending this kind of money is like buying insurance.”
CLARIFICATION: A story Tuesday reported that Sen. Al Franken’s campaign has spent more than $15 million on his reelection effort. Information provided by the campaign after the story was published indicates that about $7.5 million was spent on reelection, with the remainder spent on the recount in his last election and to retire campaign debt.
What We're Following See More »
Foreign Policy takes a look at the future of mining the estimated "100,000 near-Earth objects—including asteroids and comets—in the neighborhood of our planet. Some of these NEOs, as they’re called, are small. Others are substantial and potentially packed full of water and various important minerals, such as nickel, cobalt, and iron. One day, advocates believe, those objects will be tapped by variations on the equipment used in the coal mines of Kentucky or in the diamond mines of Africa. And for immense gain: According to industry experts, the contents of a single asteroid could be worth trillions of dollars." But the technology to get us there is only the first step. Experts say "a multinational body might emerge" to manage rights to NEOs, as well as a body of law, including an international court.
Not to be outdone by Jeffrey Goldberg's recent piece in The Atlantic about President Obama's foreign policy, the New York Times Magazine checks in with a longread on the president's economic legacy. In it, Obama is cognizant that the economic reality--73 straight months of growth--isn't matched by public perceptions. Some of that, he says, is due to a constant drumbeat from the right that "that denies any progress." But he also accepts some blame himself. “I mean, the truth of the matter is that if we had been able to more effectively communicate all the steps we had taken to the swing voter,” he said, “then we might have maintained a majority in the House or the Senate.”
Ronald Reagan's children and political allies took to the media and Twitter this week to chide funnyman Will Ferrell for his plans to play a dementia-addled Reagan in his second term in a new comedy entitled Reagan. In an open letter, Reagan's daughter Patti Davis tells Ferrell, who's also a producer on the movie, “Perhaps for your comedy you would like to visit some dementia facilities. I have—I didn’t find anything comedic there, and my hope would be that if you’re a decent human being, you wouldn’t either.” Michael Reagan, the president's son, tweeted, "What an Outrag....Alzheimers is not joke...It kills..You should be ashamed all of you." And former Rep. Joe Walsh called it an example of "Hollywood taking a shot at conservatives again."
In a sign that she’s ready to put a longer-than-expected primary battle behind her, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (D) is no longer going on the air in upcoming primary states. “Team Clinton hasn’t spent a single cent in … California, Indiana, Kentucky, Oregon and West Virginia, while” Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-VT) “campaign has spent a little more than $1 million in those same states.” Meanwhile, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Sanders’ "lone backer in the Senate, said the candidate should end his presidential campaign if he’s losing to Hillary Clinton after the primary season concludes in June, breaking sharply with the candidate who is vowing to take his insurgent bid to the party convention in Philadelphia.”
The team behind the bestselling "Clinton Cash"—author Peter Schweizer and Breitbart's Stephen Bannon—is turning the book into a movie that will have its U.S. premiere just before the Democratic National Convention this summer. The film will get its global debut "next month in Cannes, France, during the Cannes Film Festival. (The movie is not a part of the festival, but will be shown at a screening arranged for distributors)." Bloomberg has a trailer up, pointing out that it's "less Ken Burns than Jerry Bruckheimer, featuring blood-drenched money, radical madrassas, and ominous footage of the Clintons."