DFL U.S. Senate candidate Al Franken has made changes to his staff that could signal a faster, more aggressive tone in a race where he is struggling to catch up with Republican incumbent Norm Coleman.
After installing a new campaign manager six weeks ago, Franken has brought in another well-known Washington operative, Eric Schultz, to help frame the team's message.
Schultz was the national spokesman for former Sen. John Edwards' presidential bid and worked for the Kerry-Edwards ticket in 2004 and for Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., who now heads the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.
Schultz will serve as deputy campaign manager, joining Stephanie Schriock, who led Democrat Jon Tester to a Senate victory in Montana in 2006.
Others on the team include Washington media consultants Saul Shorr, a consultant for former gubernatorial candidate Mike Hatch, and Mandy Grunwald, a key player for Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and the late Sen. Paul Wellstone.
"We're entering the phase of the campaign where it's hand-to-hand, day-to-day combat," said Franken spokesman Andy Barr. "We'll be engaging Coleman on these issues every day, and Eric is a genius at that."
Jennifer Duffy, senior analyst for the Cook Political Report in Washington, said that the Franken crew is a familiar one to Washington habitués and that the addition of Schultz signals a new determination to engage in the "rapid response" that the Clintons made a fixture of campaigns.
Most polls show Franken has been trailing in his efforts to recapture the seat Coleman won in 2002. After months spent on the defensive over disclosures about Franken's finances and past writings, the campaign is attempting to reframe the race with a spotlight on Coleman's record.
"It's still a close race, but Coleman is doing a little better because so far the race hasn't been about him," Duffy said. Franken now faces a late challenge within his party from Priscilla Lord Faris, an attorney and former Franken donor. Franken has other fences to mend within his party. U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum, D-Minn., told the Associated Press on Friday that she has not yet decided whether to back Franken and wants to talk to him first.
McCollum, who had supported attorney Mike Ciresi before he dropped out of the Senate race, has been critical of Franken for his off-color material as a comedian. McCollum said that she and Franken had been scheduled to meet earlier this week but that he canceled it.
Barr said a meeting is still expected but hasn't been scheduled.
Staff writer Kevin Duchschere contributed to this report. Patricia Lopez • 651-222-1288