It’s not surprising that that the fracas between Republican U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman and his Democratic challenger, comedian Al Franken, is headed to court, after many of the ads from both camps have stretched boundaries.
The Minnesota Republican sued Franken for defamation Thursday, alleging that Franken's TV ads allege falsely that Coleman is the fourth-most-corrupt senator in Washington, according to TheHill.com.
It is the latest in the fusillade of charges and countercharges in a contentious race that saw Coleman’s comfortable lead in the polls early in October erode to the point of nearly a dead heat recently.
Mark Drake, communications director for Coleman's campaign, took particular issue with two points in Franken’s ads, especially one characterizing Coleman as the “fourth-most-corrupt senator in Washington.”
The advocacy group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington published a list of what it labeled the 20 “most corrupt” members of Congress this year. Coleman was not on the list, TheHill.com reported, but he was one of four members the organization gave a “dishonorable mention.”
Drake alleged that the group favors Franken.
Franken spokeswoman Colleen Murray defended the former “Saturday Night Live” star’s ads, saying, “Our ads are factual and true . . . Every time someone tries to hold Norm Coleman accountable, he runs to court to try to weasel his way out of it. And none of the three prior times he's done this has he been successful, and he won't be this time, either.”
The Coleman-Franken duel is the second hotly contested Senate race in two days that spawned legal paperwork. Democratic North Carolina State Sen. Kay Hagan’s campaign filed a cease-and-desist letter against U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Dole’s ad suggesting that Hagan, a former Sunday school teacher, is an atheist. Hagan is trying to unseat the freshman Republican, who once headed the American Red Cross.
The Franken campaign dismissed Coleman’s suit as a stunt, and Murray noted that Coleman has filed three suits in previous tough campaign. One was filed during the then-St. Paul mayor’s 1998 gubernatorial campaign, which he lost to wrestler Jesse Ventura, and the other two, during his 2002 campaign for the Senate.
Seesawing polls have contributed to the acrimony in the Coleman-Franken fracas. An NBC News poll released Thursday showed Coleman with a 6-point lead, 42 percent to 36 percent, with Independence Party candidate Dean Barkley getting 12 percent. A Rasmussen poll, also released Thursday, showed Coleman with a 43 percent-39 percent advantage, and Barkley at 14 percent.
Those results are flips from early October, when Princeton Survey Research Associates International found Franken leading Coleman 43 percent to 34 percent, and Barkley getting 18 percent. A competing SurveyUSA poll at the same time gave Coleman a 10-point lead.
Another previous poll found that 56 percent of respondents viewed Coleman ads criticizing Franken to be “mostly unfair personal attacks.” Only 42 percent said the same about ads criticizing Coleman.
Some Coleman and national Republican ads depicted Franken’s days as an entertainer, cursing and ranting on political subjects. Others focused on the tax and accounting mistakes of his private corporation when he lived in New York.
The Jewish heritage of both candidates also has come into play.
After Yom Kippur ended Oct. 9, Coleman said he took the Jewish holiday’s Day of Atonement message to heart, vowing to discontinue attack ads.
When some accused him of a political ploy, he responded: “This is not about a calculation. This is a reflection."
He reached the decision, he said, after “having spent three days on the road in Minnesota listening to Minnesotans; having spent a day where I could sit back and reflect upon where we're going; having watched the stock market go to places where it hasn't been in our lifetime; and making a decision about, 'How you want to be perceived? How do you want to win a race? How do you want to serve in the U.S. Senate?' "
Franken’s campaign had no such change of heart. During the candidates' first general election debate a week, Franken evoked laughter from the audience with his quip: "We've been running ads against Norm Coleman's record . . . so they're negative.”
If Coleman wins Tuesday, he might want to buy Barkley dinner. Coleman has solidified 89 percent of voters who identify themselves as Republicans, with only 4 percent swinging to the Independence Party candidate’s camp, the NBC poll revealed Thursday. But only about three out of four Democrats voice support for Franken, with 17 percent of the Democratic voters favoring Barkley over Franken.
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