The Next Senator from Minnesota: A New York Jew, For Sure

Sunday, June 8th, 2008

James Besser in Washington

It’s official: Minnesota’s Senate contest in November will feature two Jews, and that’s no joke even though the Democratic challenger is a former Saturday Night Live humorist.

On Saturday comedian Al Franken won the right to challenge Sen. Norm Coleman, a Republican who is seeking a second term.

There was a time when national Democrats saw Coleman — a GOP loyalist in a state that was turning sharply against President Bush’s policies in Iraq – as one of the most vulnerable Senate incumbents. Franken, a liberal with more than the usual star quality, was supposed to cruise to an easy victory.

But Coleman, one of two Jewish Republicans in the U.S. Senate, has put some daylight between himself and the Bush administration, and the Franken campaign has been uneven. Recently the comedian-turned-politician has been on the defensive because of complaints about some of his sexually suggestive humor.

Many women in the state didn’t find it particularly funny.

On Saturday he offered an apology at the convention of the state’s Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party (DFL), saying “It kills me that things I said and wrote sent a message … that they can’t count on me to be a champion for women, for all Minnesotans. I’m sorry for that. Because that’s not who I am.”

Most political oddsmakers say he now faces an uphill battle against Coleman in a state deeply divided between the liberal Twin Cities metropolitan area and deeply conservative western Minnesota. But a strong showing by Barack Obama, fueled by opposition to the Iraq war, could boost the Franken campaign.

Jews are less than 1 percent of the population of Minnesota, so it’s noteworthy that the next senator is guaranteed to be a New York City-born Jew.

About the Author
Douglas M. Bloomfield is a syndicated columnist, Washington lobbyist and consultant. He spent nine years as the legislative director and chief lobbyist for AIPAC.