DFL candidates visit frequently

Liz Riggs

The way the DFL candidates in the upcoming U.S. Senate race have flocked to the University this semester, you’d think the elections were next month instead of next year.

Together, the two DFL frontrunners, Al Franken and Mike Ciresi, have made roughly 17 visits to campus since Sept. 4 alone.

Lesser known DFLer Jim Cohen has also made appearances on campus this semester.

Franken’s campaign confirmed its candidate made five visits, while Ciresi’s campaign said his trips to the Twin Cities campus numbered “roughly a dozen” between appearances during the AFSCME strike and stops at Coffman Union and the Weisman Art Museum.

Both candidates’ offices are less than a mile from the University’s campus and mere blocks from each other on University Avenue.

Franken spent part of yesterday afternoon at an on-campus rally, one of the first stops on a statewide tour his campaign has dubbed “College Week.”

Between 150 to 200 students gathered in the Great Hall of Coffman Union to hear Franken speak and engage in a question and answer session with the comedian-turned-political candidate.

Franken received a large applause from the audience on several occasions, including when he mentioned his 15-season stint with Saturday Night Live.

Franken said his role as a political satirist forces him to “get through the bull” in politics today.

“I think that’s pretty good training for the U.S. Senate. Don’t you?” Franken asked the crowd, eliciting even more cheers.

Will Howell, college director at the Franken campaign and senior at Macalester College in St. Paul, said the purpose of “College Week” is to demonstrate that the campaign takes college students seriously as important members of the electorate.

“A lot of times campaigns don’t reach out to college students and we’re making an effort to do that,” Howell said.

Ciresi said he too will continue to pursue the college demographic, probably more heavily in the coming months, but admitted Franken has had time to get ahead with this age group.

“Keep in mind we’ve only been in the race six months,” Ciresi said yesterday. “Al Franken moved back here a year and a half ago just to run for the Senate. I think he’s ahead of us in terms of getting to the college campuses but we’ve also been on campuses and we’re laying the groundwork for our program.”

Ciresi said his program to target the youth vote would probably debut later in the fall.

“I don’t know if it’s going to be ‘College Week,’ but we’re going to reach out very aggressively to the college-age group,” Ciresi, a University alumnus, said.

Larry Jacobs, director of the Center for the Study of Politics and Governance in the Humphrey Institute, said it makes a lot of sense that we are seeing so much of the DFL Senate candidates, even this early in the game.

“This race, it’s up in the air Ö The candidates are looking for any vote they can get. They’re looking for volunteers,” Jacobs said.

Jacobs said students are a terrific group for candidates to tap because as a whole, they have more time to devote to a campaign than say, other segments of the population.

He also said that recent elections, particularly the 2006 midterms, have demonstrated that students are a growing part of the electorate.

Although percentage-wise, Minnesota might have had the highest youth voter turnout of anywhere in the country during the 2006 elections, 18- to 29-year-olds still voted at a much lower rate than those 30 and older.

According to a report published this year by The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, 43 percent of 18- to 29-year-old citizens showed up to vote in 2006. At the same time, voter turnout for the 30 and over demographic was 71 percent of those eligible, almost 30 percent higher than the younger demographic.

Jacobs admitted there are instances where candidates have rallied potential youth voters intensely, only to have them not show up to the polls. Howard Dean is a perfect example of this, Jacobs said.

Nonetheless, actively pursuing the youth vote appears to be a risk DFL Senate candidates are willing to take.

“I think we need to turn out the youth vote,” Franken said. “In the last couple of elections there’s been a remarkable advantage to Democrats in people under 30.”

The Minnesota Daily contacted Sen. Norm Coleman’s re-election campaign but they did not return phone calls by press time.