Franken seen as reluctant 2020 candidate

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Political associates of Al Franken say they think the Minnesota senator could be talked into running for the White House if he believes he’s the Democrat best positioned to defeat President Trump. 

But they say Franken would need to be convinced and argue that the former “Saturday Night Live” star would be reluctant to enter a battle with a slew of other Democrats in what’s increasingly expected to be a wide-open race for party’s nomination. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Franken’s Minnesota colleague in the upper chamber, is seen as a possible presidential candidate.

“He’s not the type of person to crawl over everyone’s dead carcasses to get to the White House,” said R.T. Rybak, the former mayor of Minneapolis and a Democratic National Committee vice chairman. 

{mosads}At the same time, Rybak said he wouldn’t rule out Franken entering the race. He argues the senator is outraged over what is happening to the country and that he would do whatever it takes to defeat Trump. 

Michael Dale-Stein, a spokesman for Franken, says no one should expect a Franken 2020 presidential bid.

“Sen. Franken is not going to run for president in 2020,” Dale-Stein said. 

“He’s proud to represent the state of Minnesota and plans to spend the next several years fighting for Minnesota families — working on issues like income inequality, healthcare, education, college affordability, equal rights, and on behalf of consumers and small businesses.”

Such declarations seem unlikely to keep people from discussing Franken as a possible candidate in the age of Trump. 

Franken’s celebrity status, progressive bona fides and sharp tongue have left many thinking he could be an effective candidate against Trump. 

One Republican National Committee aide even described him as the strongest potential candidate for Democrats in 2020, arguing that the Minnesotan is best positioned to bridge the divide between moderates and progressives that has engulfed the party.

“Franken is someone who could have more broad appeal to both wings of the party,” the aide said. 

Adam Parkhomenko, a Democratic strategist who worked on Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign, said Democrats need only look at a July video from an appearance Franken made in California to understand his appeal. 

“Democrats should take a close look at the story Sen. Franken is telling about his upbringing, why he is a Democrat, and how he ties those those two together,” he said. 

In the video, Franken recalls growing up in a two-bedroom, one-bathroom house with a father who didn’t have a high school diploma. 

With emotion, he shared the story of his wife, Franni Bryson: Her mother was widowed at 29-years-old with five kids to support. Pell grants helped send her and her siblings to college. Later, a GI loan assisted in putting Franken’s mother-in-law through college.

“Every member of that family became a contributing member of our society,” Franken told the California Commonwealth Club in a video that went viral. 

“Middle class. That’s why I’m a Democrat,” a choked-up Franken explained. “You know, they tell you in this country you have to pull yourself up by your bootstraps. First you have to have the boots, and the government gave my wife’s family the boots and that’s why I’m a Democrat.” 

Franken didn’t begin his Senate career until the summer of 2009 because his victory over Republican Norm Coleman was contested in a protracted legal fight. Franken won the election by just 312 votes in what was a wave year for Democrats.

Observers and colleagues have given him credit for diving into the job, establishing a legislative portfolio and taking an aggressive approach to committee witnesses he considers hostile.

That strategy was on display earlier this year when the senator stood out for his take-no-prisoners approach to questioning Trump administration nominees like Jeff Sessions and Betsy DeVos. 

His questioning of Sessions during his confirmation hearing eventually led to the now-attorney general’s decision to recuse himself from the Justice Department’s Russia probe. 

Franken was easily reelected in 2014 after a campaign that revolved around his work on wonky issues like healthcare and financial services reform. He’s also become a leading Senate fundraiser, and his leadership PAC has raised and doled out more cash than most of his colleagues in Congress. 

Franken has indicated he will run for a third Senate term in 2020.

Recently, the 66-year-old legislator has toured the country to promote his book, “Al Franken: Giant of the Senate.” 

It includes long dissertations on healthcare, net neutrality and campaign finance reform, as well as red-meat broadsides against Republicans like Trump (a “lying liar who got himself elected president”) and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz (“I like Ted Cruz more than most of my other colleagues like Ted Cruz. And I hate Ted Cruz”). 

It’s conventional for politicians to say they have no interest in higher office and are focused on their day jobs. 

Franken’s friends, however, are particularly insistent that in this case, it’s true.

“People talk to him about it all the time, and the book has given him an even higher national profile, but I can tell you that this is not on his personal radar,” said Norm Ornstein, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and friend of Franken. 

“You can never say that the circumstances wouldn’t all come together where there is a movement for him. But I can tell you … this is not something he plans to do or wants to do.”

Larry Jacobs, a political science professor at the University of Minnesota and longtime Franken observer, said Franken is more focused on burnishing his policy chops and helping Democrats realign after a series of difficult election cycles than running for higher office. 

“I’m pretty confident he’s not going to run for president, but I think he’s very serious about carving out a place for him to be a go-to person to talk about public policy,” Jacobs said.

“Franken has a way of communicating that comes off as authentic and matches the kind of vehemence and stridency of Republicans. It’s very hard to find other Democrats doing that.”

Rybak, who said he hasn’t discussed a White House run with Franken, said the senator would need a larger force to draft him into the fight. 

He said Franken would make a good presidential candidate because he’s authentic. He argues Franken could win for the same reasons Trump did, while maintaining that the Democrat is the real deal.

“You can really imagine a discussion with the American people that gets beyond the bologna,” he said. “Right now people are so desperate for something that is real, that’s the reason they accepted a charlatan like Trump.” 

Tags Al Franken Amy Klobuchar Hillary Clinton Jeff Sessions Ted Cruz

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