Ciresi looks at another U.S. Senate bidby Mark Zdechlik, Minnesota Public Radio
Minneapolis Attorney Mike Ciresi says he's planning to run for U.S. Senate next year as a Democrat against Republican incumbent Norm Coleman. Ciresi says he's putting together an exploratory committee, the precursor to a Senate campaign.
Ciresi says he's getting back into politics to help middle-class Americans.
"The question I'm going to ask is does the middle class benefit? And you might say well, what does that say about people at the lower end of the economic ladder?" he asks. "Well,if the middle class is collapsing on to the lower end of the economy ladder, then the people on the bottom don't have a chance to move up. That's what's happening today, so that's the reason I'm running."
Ciresi is best known for winning Minnesota's multi-billion dollar lawsuit against the tobacco industry.
But his legal resume includes other high-profile cases, such as litigation against the makers of the Dalkon Shield intrauterine device, and against Union Carbide over its discharge of a chemical that killed thousands of people in India. His legal career has left him wealthy.
Ciresi lost his first campaign for Senate to Mark Dayton in 2000 DFL primary. In forming an exploratory committee, Ciresi becomes the first Democrat to formally emerge to take on Republican Sen. Norm Coleman.
Iraq was a central issue in last year's Senate election, and Ciresi expects it will play prominently in 2008.
"It's going to be an enormous part of the next campaign, and I think we at the present time have an opportunity for America to lead -- not just with our military might, but with our diplomatic ability," Ciresi says. "And we have to get back into the diplomatic arena. I am not in favor of increased troops. I think we should redeploy and have an orderly withdrawal of troops from Iraq. It's time for the Iraqis to take responsibility for their country's future."
Al Franken is expected to announce on Wednesday whether he will run for Senate. Several DFL lawmakers have said that Franken has contacted them asking for their support.
Franken declined to comment on Ciresi's announcement or his own political plans.
But during an appearance on David Letterman's show last September, Franken talked about running for Senate.
"You know what I've been doing? I'm doing everything I would do if I decided to run, so that if I ran I wouldn't have not done what I should have done. That makes sense, right?" Franken said.
When asked about Franken, Ciresi called him "a smart, intelligent guy," who's a "passionate Democrat." But Ciresi says he plans to focus his criticism on Norm Coleman, not on Franken.
Carleton College political scientist Steven Schier says Ciresi and Franken would both be formidable candidates.
Schier says Ciresi could come across as a far less risky candidate than Franken, who's done and said a lot since first appearing on Saturday Night Live in the 1970s.
"I think Mike Ciresi will be arguing that, 'I don't have the career baggage that Al Franken can bring to this race, that I've spent my life in Minnesota,'" Schier says. "Also I think he'll argue that 'I am personally wealthy and I am going to be able to fund a competitive race.'"
According to Federal Election Commission records, Ciresi raised nearly $6 million for his unsuccessful 2000 primary campaign. All but $1.2 million of that came from his own checkbook.
This time around, Ciresi says he will raise outside money rather than spend his own. He also says he will seek the DFL endorsement and honor it, supporting whomever delegates choose and forgoing a primary battle.
"I think that it's essential that Democrats come out of our convention united behind one candidate," Ciresi says. "Republicans nationwide are going to pour enormous resources into this race. The Republican convention is going to be here. They will put Norm Coleman front and center of that. They'll give him all of the exposure he needs. We need to be united, so I'm going to abide by the endorsement."
With the 2008 election almost two years away, Ciresi acknowledges most Minnesotans are not thinking about the upcoming Senate race. But he says political activists are, and he's announcing now in hopes of building a powerful grass roots network.
- All Things Considered, 02/12/2007, 3:20 p.m.