Real bottom line in Franken’s Playboy snafu: Mike Ciresi is making his move

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Everyone who has seen Rep. Betty McCollum’s comments from yesterday — reported this morning at the Star Tribune, Pioneer Press, AP and Politico — already knows that May 29 was another red-letter day in the Al Franken for Senate campaign, and that the red was once again Al’s blood. Referring to a January 2000 Franken essay in Playboy titled “Porn-O-Rama!” McCollum told the Strib, “As a woman, a mother, a former teacher, and an elected official, I find this material completely unacceptable…. I can tell you it’s not playing comfortably in St. Paul, and I can’t imagine this politically radioactive material is doing very well in suburban and rural districts.”

In other words, Mike Ciresi is as good as back in the race. McCollum, remember, is a co-chair of the Ciresi for Senate campaign that folded its tent and retired to the sidelines back in March. At the time, Franken was gaining ground on Sen. Norm Coleman in head-to-head polls and seemed to be consolidating his hold on the delegates who will award the party’s endorsement. Since that time, the Franken campaign has slipped in most polls and fallen into an almost wholly reactive mode, answering one Republican volley after another. (Ironically, one of the stories buried this week by the Playboy flap is a new Rasmussen poll that shows Franken trailing 47-45, a gain that puts him in a virtual statistical tie with Coleman.)

It’s no secret that Ciresi has been setting the table for a possible re-entry to run against Franken in the fall Democratic primary. MinMon political analyst David Schultz said as much in an audiocast here almost a month ago, and the backstage chatter about it has reached such a crescendo that the Star Tribune took the highly unusual step of including Ciresi’s name in a Minnesota Poll published on May 18. (Previous MinMon items covered that poll and Strib Politically Connected editor Dennis McGrath’s rationale for including Ciresi.)

McCollum’s more or less frontal denunciation of Franken was backed by withering words from Minnesota US Reps Tim Walz and Keith Ellison. Franken-on-toast is now officially a bipartisan special du jour. Depending on one’s view of Team Al, this is either a putsch or a badly needed intervention. But in any case, the timing and the cast of characters hardly seem happenstance.

Consider the chronology of the Playboy episode. Franken’s article was highlighted in a May 19 post by Republican operative Michael Brodkorb at Minnesota Democrats Exposed. It was noted in a Kevin Duchschere story in the next day’s Star Tribune, but then the story sat there for a week-plus, seemingly destined to remain dormant until it was time for the Coleman campaign and its 527 allies to gin up the 11th-hour broadcast ads and mailers. It was McCollum who made it a top-of-news-cycle story. And she did so just a week prior to the party’s endorsing convention, where her words — coupled with fairly broad activist support for the candidacy of Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer — are bound to exacerbate what already threatened to be an embarrassing lack of unanimity on behalf of the candidate who has been the anointed frontrunner since day one. No matter what happens when the Democrats gather next weekend, the big winner in the current round of Democratic Senate race fisticuffs is almost certain to be Ciresi.