Al Franken's main competition for the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate dropped out Monday, giving the comedian-turned-candidate a major boost.
Franken and lawyer Mike Ciresi were vying for the party's endorsement to take on Republican Sen. Norm Coleman in November. Coleman is seeking a second term.
Franken has raised millions more in campaign funds and lined up most of the important union endorsements, but Ciresi's impressive resume as a trial attorney and personal wealth positioned him as a potential spoiler to Franken's ambition.
Ciresi's statement that he was dropping out indicated he didn't think he could catch up to Franken's lead in rounding up the support of Democratic delegates, who will confer their endorsement at the state party convention in June. Both Franken and Ciresi vowed not to run in the primary election without the party endorsement.
"In my judgment, continuing the endorsement race would only lead to an unnecessary floor fight. It is time to step aside," Ciresi's statement said.
Franken issued a statement, praising Ciresi for a "well-fought campaign," citing his "passion for social justice, his command of the issues facing our nation, and his devotion to the people of Minnesota..."
Franken said he looked forward to working with Ciresi to make sure the party wins the seat.
In his statement, Ciresi didn't endorse Franken or the other major candidate, college professor and peace activist Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer.
Franken won't have to contend with Ciresi tapping into his own deep pockets to sway Democratic delegates. Ciresi recently loaned his own campaign $2 million, and he and campaign surrogates were growing more vocal about Franken's history of off-color jokes _ arguing that Coleman and Republicans would be able to use them against Franken in the general election.
Nelson-Pallmeyer has also shown strength at local party meetings, and on Friday his campaign claimed it was ahead of Ciresi in securing commitments from Democratic delegates. Nelson-Pallmeyer has also vowed to abide by the party's convention endorsement.
"This sets up a clear contrast between me and Al Franken, and that helps my campaign," Nelson-Pallmeyer said, predicting that most Ciresi supporters would gravitate his way.
Ciresi is best known as the chief litigator in the state of Minnesota's successful 1998 lawsuit against big tobacco, one of numerous multimillion-dollar settlements and awards under his belt.
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