Minnesota U.S. Senate race heats up on the Range

I see at MN Publius that State Sen. Tom Bakk (DFL-Cook) has endorsed attorney Mike Ciresi for Minnesota’s upcoming U.S. Senate race. The editors at MN Publius believe this may portend future Ciresi endorsements from other Range legislators. It might, but this situation is indicative of the overall woes of this Senate race. Incumbent Norm Coleman is somewhat popular, but not in any meaningful way. People generally don’t hate him, but believe that he’s a pretty slippery political chameleon.

Part of the appeal is that he’s been very good about the “process” of being a Senator; he’s effective at responding to things and runs a pretty good office. When Dylan Days, one of my projects, needed some help with visas some years ago his office provided quick assistance. It’s not nearly enough for me to forgive him for his war votes or fervent support for the Mesaba Energy boondoggle on the Range, but his quick reactions are why people don’t have strong negative feelings about him.

With his allegiance to ultra-unpopular President George W. Bush Coleman would normally be a good target. But Minnesota is a funny state and there’s no guarantee that the DFL can get this one. I believe Bakk is underestimating Franken and overstating Ciresi’s skills, but still; neither Franken nor Ciresi will have an easy time in beating Norm Coleman. They should; either one would be better, but for some reason Coleman knows the formula for calculating political fortunes and might escape.

This race also represents a change on the Iron Range. Most of the time, the Range delegation unifies behind a candidate. Heck, in any year prior to 2004 this race would see an Iron Range candidate. But everyone up north now realizes that Iron Rangers don’t have the political or financial capital to mount a successful statewide run. Our last success story, Gov. Rudy Perpich, was a truly remarkable exception. But even so, normally the delegation backs one candidate. This time, you have the West Range legislators — Reps. Tom Anzelc and Loren Solberg and Sen. Tom Saxhaug — backing Franken. Bakk — the “north” Range senator — is backing Ciresi. It remains to be seen what Reps. Tony Sertich, Tom Rukavina and David Dill will do, but I don’t think any of them are going to make an endorsement whole-heartedly. If you didn’t need $10 million to run a campaign Sertich, Rukavina or Bakk would be in this race.

Also, on the subject of MN Publius’s post, Tom Bakk may have been crowned “King of the Range” during a committee meeting last session, but the title is largely a joke. Bakk is chair of the Senate Tax Committee — one of the most powerful spots in St. Paul — which makes puffery a staple of his diet. The truth is no one is really in charge of this Iron Range delegation. They just are the way they are. It may be many years before we regain the influence we’ve lost since the 1980s and years more before another Iron Ranger is elected to a statewide office.

UPDATE: Don’t forget to take part in the Quick Poll along the right side of the blog. Do you believe Santa Claus is A) real, B) not real, C) real in our hearts, or D) State Sen. Tom Bakk (DFL-Cook).

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