Lord Faris says Franken's campaign is falteringby Mark Zdechlik, Minnesota Public Radio
Seven Democrats are running in the DFL September primary in hopes of winning the party's nomination to take on Republican Sen. Norm Coleman in the November election.
Comedian and author Al Franken is the favorite to win that primary. Franken has raised millions of dollars. He has the DFL endorsement, and he's a household name throughout the state. Off all of Franken's challengers, attorney Priscilla Lord Faris appears to be putting together the most aggressive primary campaign.
St. Paul, Minn. — Priscilla Lord Faris says she has nothing against DFL primary front runner Al Franken.
"I think he's a fabulous comedian, that's all I can say," Lord Faris explained in her downtown St. Paul law office. "He's awesome, and I do like his politics, but I am very concerned about what Minnesotans are telling me."
Lord Faris says she's heard from many people who think Franken is unelectable. Franken has repeatedly come under fire for tax problems and for his work as a comedian, including a graphic satirical essay he wrote for Playboy magazine several years ago. Lord Faris is convinced Republicans will be able to use Franken's past to quash any political future.
Lord Faris says she decided to get into the race at the 11th hour of the last day candidates could legally file for office, because she wanted to give Franken's campaign every opportunity to take-off. Yet, she says its clear from numerous polls the Franken campaign is faltering.
"I've heard from a lot of Democrats already that it isn't working and they're very concerned," said Faris.
Lord Faris is part of a famous Minnesota family. She is the 66-year-old daughter of retired federal judge Miles Lord. But most Minnesotans have probably never heard of her. Besides her time earlier this decade on the Sunfish Lake City council, she has not held elected office. She says her work as a teacher, a lobbyist, a business owner and a lawyer qualifies her for a position in the U.S. Senate.
Lord Faris appears comfortable and confident, and she doesn't seem daunted by the magnitude of jumping into what's shaping up to be the nation's most expensive Senate race.
At her first news conference moments after she formally registered her campaign, Lord Faris said she hoped to engage Al Franken in debates.
"I would love too," Faris told reporters. "I certainly hope that Mr. Franken will debate with me. And it will only help the Democratic Party if we debate each other."
But Franken says he's focused on Republican Sen. Norm Coleman and the November election, not the DFL September primary.
"Anybody is entitled to run, I just know that this is going to come down to me and Norm Coleman," Franken said following a tour of foreclosed homes in North Minneapolis.
Franken's campaign says he will not debate Lord Faris or any of the other DFL primary contenders. They say Franken is busy preparing for upcoming debates with Coleman.
University of Minnesota Political Science Professor Lawrence Jacobs says he's not surprised by Franken's decision.
"Al Franken's smart strategy on this might well be to duck and hide, because the more attention she gets, the more likely her support is to grow," Jacobs said.
However, Jacobs says Franken could use a primary campaign to reintroduce himself to Minnesotans and re-frame his candidacy, which his campaign acknowledges went through a rough patch earlier this year.
Former Attorney General Mike Hatch has been through numerous primaries, both as the DFL endorsed candidate and the challenger. Hatch says he thinks primaries strengthen campaigns, rather than serve as costly distractions.
"I don't see them as a drain," Hatch said. "I see them as the ability for candidates to go out and define themselves."
Hatch, who's known Lord Faris for years, describes her as a charming person and an excellent lawyer, but also someone who is facing long odds.
"Priscilla -- I have a great deal of respect for her, and the family name. The Lord name is a great name in Minnesota politics, but I would say it's an uphill battle for her," Hatch said.
Lord Faris says a prominent Democrat, whom she refuses to name, asked her not to run. But Lord Faris is predicting she can win the support of Minnesota Democrats once they find out about her candidacy.
Her positions on the issues may closely align with Franken's, but she says her professional experience and deep Minnesota roots offer a stark contrast to Franken and Coleman.
"I've been a business owner, I've represented Minnesotans, I've been a teacher," Faris said. "I really know a lot about the issues that someone who's been in government all their lives; they don't know about business."
Faris points out that Sen. Coleman has been a government employee for all of his professional career. And Franken, Faris said, "He's been an entertainer but he hasn't advocated for anybody."
"So I think that really makes me way, way qualified to be a really good senator," said Faris.
Lord Faris says she hopes to raise as much as $1.5 million for her primary campaign.
- Morning Edition, 07/23/2008, 7:24 a.m.