Lawyer Mike Ciresi says he would have beaten Norm Coleman by double-digits if he had stayed in the U.S. Senate race.
Ciresi dropped out of the contest for the DFL Party endorsement last March and later kept his pledge not to enter the primary against the endorsee, Al Franken, who ended in a statistical tie with Coleman that is still being disputed.
In an interview Friday, Ciresi said he would have defeated both Franken and Coleman.
"We would have beat [Coleman] by 10, 12 points," he said, when asked about Coleman's quoted remark this week that any Democrat other than Franken would have defeated him in a bad year for Republicans.
Franken is ahead of Coleman by 225 votes after an automatic recount. Coleman is challenging those results in a trial that is set to start Monday before a three-judge panel in St. Paul.
Ciresi, one of the state's top trial lawyers, ran for the U.S. Senate in 2000 but lost in the DFL primary to Mark Dayton, who went on to win the election. State legislator Jerry Janezich was the party's endorsed candidate that year.
Challenging the party endorsee in the primary is controversial among the party faithful, and so when Ciresi ran again last year, he pledged to abide by the party's choice.
That was a mistake, he said Friday. He knew that the economy, an issue he considered one of his strengths, would be a big concern, he said, but he never anticipated it would sink into crisis as quickly as it did. If he had, he never would have promised to stay out of the primary, he said.
After he left the race and Franken was beset with questions about his personal finances and some controversial work from his comedy career, Ciresi said that "people were just urging me to get back in. But I gave my word that I would abide by the endorsement."
"I think I would have beat [Franken] in the primary," he said. To do so, however, "I would have had to be nasty on him," he added.
A Star Tribune Minnesota Poll in May, two months after Ciresi left the race, showed him running nearly as well against Coleman as Franken. The poll showed Coleman leading Franken, 51 to 44 percent, and Coleman ahead of Ciresi, 51 to 43 percent.
But there had been signs that Ciresi was failing to win over party activists. Franken was also pulling in more contributions than Ciresi by a nearly 4-to-1 ratio, and Ciresi had drawn $2 million from his own considerable fortune to help finance his campaign.
His departure left Franken with only one opponent, college professor Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer. Franken won the DFL endorsement on the first ballot at the party convention in June.
Ciresi said Friday that Minnesota's election process needs reforming. The caucus system, he said, "is truly undemocratic," and the primary election should be held in June for statewide races rather than in September.
"With the issues that the country is facing, I think Minnesotans deserve a better choice," he said.
Officials with the Franken campaign and the DFL said they had no comment.
Kevin Duchschere • 651-292-0164