Coleman might have NW Minnesota voters to thank

If Republican Norm Coleman holds on to his slim lead over Democrat Al Franken and secures a second term representing Minnesota in the U.S. Senate, he can thank the voters of Polk County.

Vote Totals

If Republican Norm Coleman holds on to his slim lead over Democrat Al Franken and secures a second term representing Minnesota in the U.S. Senate, he can thank the voters of Polk County.

Or Marshall County.

Or Pennington, Roseau, Lake of the Woods or Clearwater.

With all of the state's precincts reporting, Coleman's lead of 475 votes over Franken has triggered a mandatory recount, required by state law when the margin between the top two candidates is less than one-half of 1 percent.

In the 11-county region of northwestern Minnesota, Coleman defeated Franken by a full 6 percent -- 47.4 percent to 41.4 per cent, with Independence Party candidate Dean Barkley claiming 11.2 percent.


In actual votes in northwestern Minnesota, Coleman had 34,320 to Franken's 29,794 and Barkley's 8,211.

That's a Coleman advantage of more than 4,500 -- or nearly 10 times his statewide cushion.

Coleman did especially well in Roseau County, where he took 57.5 percent to Franken's 31.7 percent (4,394 votes to 2,420). The incumbent also topped 50 percent in the three-way race in Lake of the Woods and Clearwater counties.

Franken won in Beltrami, Norman, Mahnomen and Kittson counties, but his margins in raw votes ranged from just 93 in Kittson to 576 in Beltrami. Franken's combined advantage in the four counties was trumped by Coleman's edge in Roseau County alone.

"Coleman has been here a lot, and people know him," said Jeff Pelowski, who was elected Tuesday to a sixth term as Roseau mayor. "He was pretty visible after the (June 2002) flood.

"Franken was here, but I just don't know ... people here are a little more conservative than the picture Franken presented of himself."

Mike Christopherson, who as editor of the Crookston Daily Times championed Franken's candidacy, said that the Democratic candidate failed to make any inroads with the region's main demographics: "old school, conservative Republicans" and "those for whom everything is social issues -- marriage, abortion" and others.

Coleman beat Franken handily in Polk County, 48.6 percent to 39.1 percent, with 11.3 percent going to Barkley.


Coleman visited Crookston toward the end of the campaign. "There wasn't a lot of youth or energy there, but he was good," Christopherson said. "At the rally, people ripped (U.S. House Speaker) Nancy Pelosi for five minutes.

"Franken came to town and the college kids came out and there was a lot of energy, but it fizzled after a while. Then, when the (Coleman) ads got really nasty, I think that hurt Coleman elsewhere in the state, but here I think they scored with those."

Many people in the area "just don't think Al Franken is a funny guy," Christopherson said. "They think his humor is gross and lewd, and he's a rich celebrity."

Covering territory

Rep. Bernie Lieder, DFL-Crookston, who won a 13th term Tuesday, said that voters in northwestern Minnesota tend to be older and more conservative than in the rest of the state, but he was "surprised Coleman would run that much better" in Polk County because of party differences over the farm bill.

Barkley probably pulled from both major candidates, Lieder said. A larger, hard to measure factor was the tone of the Senate race.

"It got negative," he said. "It went too negative right off the bat, and in the end you couldn't substantiate the charges that were being made."

Don Osborne, who retired in 2006 after serving as mayor of Crookston for 14 years, also thought the campaign was too negative, "and people got upset with it."


Coleman "has been in this area quite a bit, and I'm sure that had a lot to do with getting better support here," Osborne said. "He covered the territory better."

Franken also campaigned in the region, and he had name recognition from his TV work.

"I met him," Osborne said. "I just got a feeling he should have stayed in the business he was in. I heard a lot of that in coffee talk, and I think that was the big item in our area. You can't treat the public like they're not intelligent."

Eric Bergeson, who lives near Fertile but is active in the Norman County DFL, agreed that Franken's "abrasive sense of humor" didn't sit well with people.

"I know several Obama supporters who were very hesitant about voting for Franken," he said. "I considered voting for Barkley. ... I think there was a general feeling that Franken lacked senatorial dignity."

Gun and hunting issues are important in the area, "and Coleman clearly is the NRA choice," Bergeson said.

"Also, people here are sensitive to seniority. If we keep changing senators every six years, we're not going to get many federal dollars."

Staid and wary


Al Torpet, a retired farmer from Fertile and active in the Polk County DFL, struggled Wednesday to understand how President-elect Obama could do so much better in northwestern Minnesota, winning some counties that Franken lost, including Pennington and Marshall.

"Our township went for Obama by three votes," he said, but questions about Franken's writing and comedy probably gave some voters pause.

"We're pretty staid old Scandinavians up here," Torpet said. "For one thing, they don't stay up for 'Saturday Night Live,'?" for which Franken wrote and acted in skits.

But some Republican campaign ads exaggerated or distorted some of Franken's work, he said, "assuming we are not sophisticated enough to separate truth from fiction. We know why they're run, though. It's because they work."

The attacks on Franken played into Democrats' lack of enthusiasm for his candidacy. He wasn't a Paul Wellstone.

"Was he the very best candidate we could come up with?" Torpet asked. "He was endorsed early, and he raised money. But he did not ignite me like other candidates through the years."

Bergeson made the same point. "Wellstone wasn't senatorial, either," he said. "But he was unarguably sincere. Wellstone's sincerity won over the conservative DFLers in this area who were initially skeptical of his activist liberalism."

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