For Republicans in Minnesota, the year to run for the Senate may be 2014.
Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar is up for re-election in 2012, but as vulnerable Democrats go, Sen. Al Franken is getting just as much attention.
Republicans think Franken is likely the weaker candidate, which could be one reason that no clear challenger has stepped forward to run against Klobuchar.
As the GOP attempts to retake the Senate in 2012, no one is willing to publicly say they would rather hold out and run against Franken in the next cycle. But some Minnesota Republicans are surprisingly complimentary of Klobuchar’s record.
For now, the GOP is trying to tie the more popular Klobuchar to the former comedian in the hope that some of the critique could stick.
Last week, the state Republican Party launched AmyFacts.com. But rather than tying Klobuchar to President Barack Obama or House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), as was the practice in the 2010 cycle, the site links Klobuchar to the more liberal Franken. Its tagline: “Talks Like a Moderate. Votes Like a Franken.”
“We’re going to point out to people that they’re two peas in a pod,” Minnesota Republican Party Chairman Tony Sutton said.
In 2006, Klobuchar beat Rep. Mark Kennedy (R) by 20 points in the open-seat race. In 2008, Franken defeated Sen. Norm Coleman (R) by just 312 votes. Since Obama carried Minnesota with 54 percent of the vote that year, Republicans credit Franken’s win to Obama’s success.
“Obama being at the top of the ticket and the excitement he generated and the enthusiasm from new voters certainly helped Franken in the Senate race, and that won’t be there in 2014,” said GOP consultant Jeff Larson, who advised Coleman in 2008.
Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee spokesman Eric Schultz, who was Franken’s deputy campaign manager in 2008, doesn’t sound worried.
“If they have an argument to make against Amy, they should make it,” he said, praising Klobuchar’s record.
For her part, Klobuchar isn’t talking about politics yet.
“The last election just concluded in our state, and the Senator believes that Minnesotans want their elected officials to get to work — not focus on the next election,” Klobuchar spokesman Linden Zakula said. “The Senator has spent the last four years working hard for the people of Minnesota, and that’s what she’ll continue to do.”
The most recent public polling in the 2012 Senate race came from the Democratic-leaning firm Public Policy Polling in early December. It found Klobuchar had an approval rating of 59 percent and a disapproval rating of 29 percent, while Franken had an approval rating of 45 percent and a disapproval rating of 42 percent. The poll had a margin of error of 3.2 points.
Though no Republican has declared intentions to run against Klobuchar, the firm tested the most prominent Republicans against her and found that even the most popular one, then-Gov. Tim Pawlenty, would lose to her by 10 points. Polls show Rep. Michele Bachmann is the GOP’s preferred choice, but that she also would lose to Klobuchar.
Roll Call Politics has changed its rating of the Minnesota Senate race from Leans Democratic to the less competitive Likely Democratic, but Minnesotans say the race will heat up after local party conventions in the next couple months.
Several Republicans have been mentioned as potential Klobuchar opponents. Former state Rep. Laura Brod, who’s running for the University of Minnesota Board of Regents, is often mentioned, and the list of possible challengers also includes former gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer, who just announced a bid to become a member of the Republican National Committee; Bill Guidera, who works for News Corp. and serves as finance chairman for the state party; and former state Rep. Brad Finstad, who leads the Center for Rural Policy and Development.
State Sen. David Hann said he wouldn’t rule out a run but is focused on his role as head of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee. He told Roll Call that he may re-evaluate when the legislative session ends in late May or June.
“At that point, who knows what the lay of the land will look like and what we’ll be thinking by then,” he said.
Businesswoman Susan Marvin ruled out running for Senate, as did former state Rep. Marty Seifert. Minnesota Business Partnership Executive Director Charlie Weaver said he’s “not inclined” to run. A former chief of staff to Pawlenty, Weaver said he has been friends with Klobuchar for 20 years.
“She’s very congenial, she’s very thoughtful and she’s self-effacing. She makes fun of herself,” he told Roll Call. “Those are all very attractive qualities.”
Former state Rep. Paul Kohls told Roll Call that people have called him about the race, and while he didn’t want to rule it out, he doesn’t expect to get in.
“At this point in time I think that getting back into elective politics in 2012 is probably a little sooner than I would foresee myself doing it,” he said.
Despite the early focus on Franken, Republicans insist they won’t skip 2012 and the chance it brings to challenge for a Senate seat. “You never know what the environment is going to look like in 2014,” Larson said.
Correction: Jan. 24, 2011
The article misstated the final margin between Democratic victor Al Franken and Republican Norm Coleman in the 2008 Senate race.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., carries a musket on stage as he speaks during the American Conservative Union's Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor, Md., on Thursday March 6, 2014.