Minn.'s Franken hardly a GOP target for defeat
FILE - This July 1, 2009 photo shows Sen.-elect Al Franken, D-Minn., shaking hands with supporters during a rally at the Minnesota State Capitol in St Paul, Minn. Sen. Franken won his first term in 2008 only after a months-long recount in which he barely squeaked through. But Franken has transformed his upcoming re-election race into one that many national Republicans are writing off, choosing to focus their money instead on more vulnerable Democrats. He's done it in part by transforming his image from the wisecracking former Saturday Night Live start into quiet policy wonk. (AP Photo/Craig Lassig)
ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Al Franken barely made it into the Senate the first time, squeaking by with 312 votes after months of recounts and legal skirmishes that left Minnesota Republicans salivating at the prospect of snatching the seat back from the former "Saturday Night Live" star in 2014.
So far, that's not playing out according to plan.
Four years into his term, Franken barely figures into the GOP's calculations for trying to wrest control of the Senate from Democrats. Republicans don't consider him a top target for defeat, and they haven't found a strong challenger in the Democratic-leaning state.
Should a competitive race not materialize, Democrats say much, if not all, of the credit should go to Franken himself.
To solidify his then-shaky standing, Franken employed a disciplined strategy that started in 2009 when he was declared the victor of a three-way race in which he won less than 42 percent of the vote. Back then, he spoke of not wanting to "waste this chance" and made repeated promises to keep his head down and do the work. He has largely stuck to that vow, avoiding the national spotlight. He rarely talks to the Washington press corps, has shed his comedic persona and focused on policy, working to be taken seriously.
FILE - In this June 30, 2009 file photo, Democrat Al Franken smiles as he meets the media at his house in Minneapolis, after the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled in his favor in the Senate race against Republican Norm Coleman. Republicans figured he would be an easy target the second time around. But Franken has transformed his race into one that many national Republicans are writing off, choosing to focus their money instead on more vulnerable Democrats. He's done it in part by transforming his image from the wisecracking former Saturday Night Live star into quiet policy work. (AP Photo/Andy King,File)
"People have seen that I did what I said I would do. I came to Washington, I put my shoulder to the wheel and I did the work," Franken said in a recent interview with The Associated Press, expressing optimism that he'll be re-elected. He punted on the question of whether he'd seek a more prominent national voice in a second term, saying: "I'm more worried about what I'm working on tomorrow."
The midterm congressional elections are more than a year away. But Republicans already are going after vulnerable Democrats in their quest to gain the six seats they need to return to Senate power. They're largely focusing on vulnerable Democrats in Republican-tilting states: Louisiana, North Carolina, Alaska and Arkansas, as well as swing and conservative states where Democrats are retiring, like Iowa, South Dakota, West Virginia and Montana.
Minnesota GOP Chairman Keith Downey acknowledged that, because of the tight 2008 margin, Republicans initially assumed Franken would be easy to beat in 2014. "People in politics always make too many assumptions about the future, but that was certainly the perspective," he said.