The rush to fill Franken's seat starts

Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., leaves the Capitol after speaking on the Senate floor, Thursday, on Capitol Hill in Washington. Franken said he will resign from the Senate in coming weeks following a wave of sexual misconduct allegations and a collapse of support from his Democratic colleagues, a swift political fall for a once-rising Democratic star.

HIBBING — Amid the ninth allegation of sexual harassment, and with his public profile growing in recent months, embattled U.S. former Sen. Al Franken is now back on the political fundraising trail.

The return from near anonymity after his December 2017 resignation from the Senate, after several women accused him of making sexual advances, is fueling speculation that the former Saturday Night Live comedian turned Democratic senator could again seek political office.

Over the weekend, Minnesota’s Senate District 06 DFL announced that Franken would be the keynote speaker at the Iron Range Fundraiser at the Crown Ballroom on Howard Street in Hibbing on Oct. 12.

“Making a rare, special appearance on Minnesota’s Iron Range, Al Franken will speak to an anticipated crowd of 600 at this fundraiser,” according to the press release from Senate District 06 DFL Chair Bill Marchand and Treasurer Cathy Daniels. “True to his career, Franken will bring laughter mixed with a meaningful message highlighting our country’s current state of affairs.”

The DFL fundraiser, which runs from 4 to 7 p.m. next Saturday, is meant to draw numerous local and regional politicians such as State Rep. Julie Sandstede and Sen. David Tomassoni, among others who are expected to run for their respective seats in the upcoming 2020 election. The event is publicized to include local music, a silent auction, cash bar and food. Seating is limited to 600 people. Tickets are $50 per person or $500 to reserve a table for eight.

When questioned over the phone Monday by the Hibbing Daily Tribune about press access to the event, Daniels said “the Franken campaign requested the DFL have no press at the event.” Her words were confirmed later that day by other local members of the party.

Daniels, who is also the chair of St. Louis County District 06 DFL, declined to comment on follow-up questions. “I’m not going to answer those questions. I’m not involved in his campaign staff. My job is to run the DFL office for St. Louis County.”

A source close to the Minnesota DFL, who is familiar with statewide candidates told the HDT on Monday afternoon that Franken has yet to announce any formal campaign plans.

But an unnamed Franken spokesperson, responding to an email, said late Monday night that “Al has absolutely no plans to run to for office.”

In the press release, Daniels and Marchand characterized Franken as “an American comedian and politician” who as a “long-standing Democrat and close friend to the late Minnesota Senator Paul Wellstone, Franken served in the United States Senate from 2008 to 2017 before courageously resigning in a decision true to his core values.”

Staging a comeback?

Franken has mostly stayed out of the public eye since resigning from political office. The New Yorker published an article reporting that many lawmakers have changed their opinions of his alleged sexual advances and are now saying he may have been forced out too quickly.

He recently launched The Al Franken podcast and last month announced that he would join left-wing commentators on SiriusXM’s Progress channel for his new spot, “The Al Franken Show.”

Franken has not publicly ruled out running for office again, and has a healthy campaign war chest if he decides to pursue a federal office with more than $2.6 million cash on hand as of June 30, the most recent deadline to report campaign finances.

Testing the fundraising or campaign waters with Hibbing and Iron Range DFLers is walking on somewhat safe grounds for Franken, who would need early support in Greater Minnesota before reaching out to The Cities or other metro areas. He easily won his 2014 re-election bid in House 06A with 64 percent of the vote, clearing House 06B with 61 percent and the Eighth Congressional District with 53 percent.

In the press release announcing his Hibbing appearance, Franken made reference to a much beloved, former DFL state representative who passed earlier this year.

“Tommy Rukavina said the key to the Range was being short,” he said in the statement. “I’ll bring that. While my speech may be a bit longer than Tommy’s, it will involve less yelling. I’m looking forward to seeing my friends, and making sure the DFL has the resources it needs to win with the hard-working, pro-union, good-looking folks on the Range.”

Franken is known as a prolific fundraiser, evidenced by his own his re-election campaigns, and the Midwest Values PAC he started before running for Senate, which still has more than $1 million cash on hand as of June 30.

Another allegations surfaces

On Monday, before the news of his fundraising event circulated, a former Capitol Hill staffer accused Franken of sexual misconduct in 2006, two years before he was first elected to the Senate.

The anonymous allegation accuses Franken of grabbing the woman’s buttocks while they posed for a photograph. She recounted the story to New York magazine as part of a compilation of interviews with 25 people describing their #MeToo experiences.

She told the magazine the incident was “so violating” and she felt “deeply, deeply uncomfortable.”

Similar allegations led to his eventual resignation from the Senate in 2017, a decision he says he now regrets. In an appearance last week on Late Night with Conan O’Brien, Franken said he’s been “more mindful in my interactions with pretty much everyone.”

“Two years ago, I would have sworn that I’d never done anything to make anyone feel uncomfortable, but it’s clear that I must have been doing something,” Franken told New York magazine. “As I’ve said before, I feel terrible that anyone came away from an interaction with me feeling bad.”

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