Al Franken’s Minnesota campaign is not going well. Facing a shrewd incumbent with the reputation of a solid campaigner, Franken had no room for error. Yet, his campaign started tanking with revelations of Franken’s tax problems and with the controversy over his 2000 allegedly-pornographic essay in Playboy, a controversy that led a Democratic congresswoman state that she was not sure she could support Franken’s campaign. Now, it is the turn of Planned Parenthood to blast Franken for his 2000 essay in an e-mail which explained that it was difficult to see how the organization could endorse Franken and that they deplored “the misogynist remarks of some of these statements and find them degrading to women.”
In parallel, a second controversy has now erupted over a joke related to rape that Franken helped write on SNL in 1995 (visit that link for full explanation); the skit did not ended up airing as it received weak laughs at a dress rehearsal. The state GOP, which acknowledged having had the tape in hand for a while but only releasing it now, was ready to launch an immediate offensive as Republicans are blasting the former comedian. And Rep. McCollum, the Democratic congresswoman whose criticism had already made news last week, used the day’s news to distance herself from Franken even further. “It is appalling that anyone could characterize rape, a violent and horrible crime, as a joke,” she said.
Given the slow tickle of stories about Franken’s years as a comedian, there is very little doubt that the GOP has a whole series of similar scandals to use against the Democratic candidate. After all, Franken was a comedian and skit writers for years and his name is sure to be involved in many similar stories. Worried that it will be impossible to mount any sort of credible general election campaign under the threat of the GOP unleashing a new chapter of their apparently formidable oppo research file, Democrats are reportedly now considering their options besides Franken, including Mike Ciresi’s possible jump back in the race.
Al Franken’s prodigious fundraising abilities will be hard to match by any replacement candidate, not to mention that his early start was one of his main assets. After all, Senator Coleman was never going to be an easy incumbent for Democrats to defeat. But for a candidate who just two months ago was receiving sustained praise for a strong transition from comedy to politics, the change of tone in Franken’s coverage is brutal. Franken’s main task has always been the need to be taken seriously, and the ease with which Republicans are transforming him back into a goofy figure leaves him few paths to being elected.
Meanwhile, the saga of NY-13 continues to get more absurd after a month of unexpected developments: First, there was Vito Fossella’s arrest for drunk driving followed by the revelation that he was taking his mistress on taxpayer-funded congressional trips and Fossela’s subsequent retirement, the two top Republicans from the districts declining to run and the Staten Island GOP’s stunning decision to endorse the candidacy of Francis H. Powers, the island’s largely unknown former representative on the MTA board. Meanwhile, Democrats got one of their strongest candidate in the race.
As if this was not enough to get Democrats confident that they would pick up the last New York City district that was under Republican control, Francis H. Powers’s son (who, to make matters more complicated, has the same first name: Francis M. Powers) announced today that he would run for Congress too as the Libertarian nominee! His objective? Defeating the Republican Party and, as he explained himself, “A vote for my father is a vote for the straight Republican ticket.” He denied that he was doing this to get back at his father, though he acknowledged that he was motivated by the opportunity to give the Libertarian Party a wide audience by creating the spectacle of a son running against his father.
Now, there is the possibility that the son will not make it to the ballot as he needs to collect 3,000 signatures. But if he does this is sure to prove very distracting to the Republican candidate’s campaign; it would have been so under any circumstances, but the fact that the two have the same name would render the situation impossible to follow. As for the entertainment-value of this controversy and how much Francis H. Powers will be unable to escape constant talk of this development, his priceless reaction to his son’s announcement sets the tone: “I’ve tried very hard for many years to help my son. Unfortunately, he’s rejected everyone’s help to live a healthy lifestyle. Regardless of whether he wants to run for Congress, I still stand ready to help him move his life in a positive direction.”
Lifestyle, really? The young Powers is a married man with children, not a drug addict currently in a rehab clinic, as his father’s statement would imply. The Staten Island Advance provides an explanation: “A Republican source said that Powers was referring to his son’s ‘carefree’ lifestyle in the music business.”