Ask Al: Elections in the USA are no joke

I’ve long been an admirer of Al Franken’s. Laugh-out-loud comic genius with a driving social conscience, in turns satirist and political activist. Besides, anyone who takes on conservative talkback radio in the U.S. by setting up a liberal alternative is a hero.

A major turning point for Franken was the attempt by some of the most odious conservative media figures to make political capital out of the funeral of his good friend Sen. Paul Wellstone in 2002. This is described in a chapter in his 2003 book LIES (And the Lying Liars Who Tell Them): A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right — arguably his best book since Rush Limbaugh Is a Big Fat Idiot and Other Observations.

Last February Franken announced he is standing for the U.S. Senate. Paul Wellstone’s former Minnesota seat, no less. He surprised many by running very hard and doing very well. By January he had reportedly raised more than any other senate challenger, was front runner for the Democratic nomination, and was polling ahead of his incumbent opponent (and it does not usually augur well for an incumbent to be behind at that point in the cycle).

Then things got wobbly. A couple of months ago it was revealed that Franken’s corporation failed to carry workers’ compensation insurance in New York for three years and is to pay a penalty. Now Franken has announced that his company “will be paying $70,000 in back taxes and penalties in 17 states after several weeks in which the campaign downplayed the amount of money that his company owed and changed the reasons for why the taxes (and workers’ compensation insurance) had not been paid”, as CBS puts it. Franken’s opponent has stretched his lead to 7 points, according to Rasmussen Reports.

How did this happen? Interestingly, a Republican Party blogger — a specialist in “opposition research” and until recently a paid G.O.P. staffer — has been the key.

You might say this is not unexpected, given the things that Franken has been saying about the Republicans and prominent conservative media figures over the years. Also, Minnesota is an important swing state in the presidential race and is widely expected to be close.

What would have been one of the most interesting and crucial senate races has become even more so. New Zealand politicos might like to contemplate the success to date of the Republican dirt digger and blogger, who claims to earn his living from “corporate, non-political consulting work”.

For some background on Franken’s race, see the recent Atlantic magazine article.

For more on the blogger, see here.

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3 Responses to “Ask Al: Elections in the USA are no joke”

  1. Obama keeps bounce « Jafapete’s Weblog Says:

    […] incumbent Republican Norm Coleman with a narrow 48% to 45% lead over Democratic nominee Al Franken (see earlier post). This despite a flare-up over a “racy” Playboy magazine article Democratic nominee Al […]

  2. Ventura not running « Jafapete’s Weblog Says:

    […] Ventura not running Long-time readers of this blog (all 13 weeks of it) will know that the most interesting race in the US apart from the big one is the senate race in Minnesota. Not only is the incumbent Republican vulnerable, but the Democratic challenger is Al Franken, top left-wing satirist and political commentator. (Background here.) […]

  3. Franken fights dirt « Jafapete’s Weblog Says:

    […] Franken is neck-and-neck with incumbent Minnesota senator Norm “W” Coleman. (Background here and here.) He’s been the subject of attack ads and outright lies about his position from his […]

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