Senator Al Franken may have won by a whisker in 2008, carrying Minnesota only after 6 months of agonizing recounts and questionable court decisions.
But the former comedian is riding high today. The far left liberal has yet to draw a GOP challenger with any heft and considering Franken’s bloated war chest, whoever gets the Republican nomination is going to be far behind in fundraising and organization.
But it’s not just Minnesota, as this Politico article points out:
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.
“It’s shocking to me that Franken is as safe as he is at this point,” said University of Minnesota political scientist Larry Jacobs.
Republicans hope national atmospherics, specifically the growing unpopularity of Obamacare and the scandals enveloping Obama, will help put Minnesota in play. They believe 2014 will be a bad year for incumbents in general, and that while Franken is no doubt the favorite at the moment, the race is not lost for the GOP.
In a relatively cheap media state like Minnesota, it is not impossible for a Republican challenger to make some headway against the incumbent. But Franken has done his homework and was known throughout the state even before he ran for senator. The GOP challenger is going to have to hope for events outside of Minnesota — the IRS scandal, Obamacare roll out — to assist the campaign. Anything that will cause voters to look for an alternative to Franken benefits the Republicans.
As for other states, it is curious indeed why some of the better known Republican candidates in their respective states are sitting 2014 out. Many of the incumbents mentioned in the article have formidable resources at their disposal. If you’re not rich and can’t self-finance, a $3 or $4 million dollar lead in many states would scare off cautious politicians. In the end, many of the best candidates are House members who don’t want to risk losing a sure thing. Iowa’s Steve King decided against running even though he would have almost certainly been able to raise plenty of money for a run. King represents a safe district and perhaps the gamble on going for the senate seemed too far a stretch.
I’m sure that at least some of the candidates who emerge from primaries in these Democratic states will be competitive and, given the circumstances, there may be an upset or two. But GOP prospects that looked so bright just a few months ago appear to be dimming as the cold light of reality sets in, keeping many of party’s best hopes for victory on the sidelines.
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