Ciresi in parting: Choose wisely

  • Article by: PAT DOYLE and KEVIN DUCHSCHERE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 11, 2008 - 8:34 AM

Ann and Mike Ciresi

Photo: Jerry Holt, Star Tribune

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Amid growing signs he was failing to win over party activists, Mike Ciresi announced Monday that he was dropping out of the race for U.S. Senate, saying he wanted to avoid a divisive fight for the DFL Party’s endorsement.

His decision leaves political satirist and commentator Al Franken and University of St. Thomas Prof. Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer as the leading DFL candidates seeking to challenge Republican Sen. Norm Coleman.

“Continuing the endorsement race would only lead to an unnecessary floor fight,” Ciresi said in a statement. “It is time to step aside.”

Besides failing to garner enough support from activists, Ciresi trailed Franken in campaign contributions by a nearly 4-to-1 ratio.
Ciresi had counted on support from activists to overcome Franken’s fundraising advantage.

But the tide recently turned against him. Interviews with party delegates and reports on results from district conventions suggest Ciresi was running behind Franken and Nelson-Pallmeyer in the race for DFL endorsement, which will occur at the state party convention June 6-8 in Rochester.

Sought broader appeal

At the Senate District 35 convention in Savage on Saturday, Ciresi gave a rousing speech but also expressed frustration with the party’s endorsement process.

He reminded delegates that they would be choosing a candidate not just for DFL activists, but for independents and moderate Republicans “who want to vote for someone other than Norm Coleman.”

In an interview immediately after the speech, Ciresi said the process of selecting the DFL candidate was exclusionary and “not really democratic.”

“It’s a broader interest that’s at stake,” he said. “We need to appeal to a broad cross-section [of voters].” He said Franken had good name recognition but “I’m the most electable candidate. Norm Coleman will be the issue if I run, not Al Franken.”

A multimillionaire, Ciresi built a reputation as a trial lawyer; he represented the state in litigation against the tobacco industry that resulted in a $6.1 billion settlement. He ran for the U.S. Senate in 2000, losing the DFL nomination to Mark Dayton, who won the general election.

Rival saw gains

A strong public signal of Ciresi’s slippage emerged Friday, when Nelson-Pallmeyer’s campaign e-mailed a page from its website that proclaimed: “This is now a two-person race!!!”

It went on to say: “A couple of months ago Jack was still polling third, but now ... we are proud to say we have surpassed Mike Ciresi in delegate support!” It said that at a recent party convention in Duluth, Nelson-Pallmeyer and Franken each won 10 delegates while Ciresi got only two.

The Franken campaign declined to comment Monday on Ciresi’s withdrawal, saying Franken wanted to speak with Ciresi first before making a statement.

Nelson-Pallmeyer said he believes his campaign is more in tune with Ciresi supporters on the Iraq war and health coverage than is Franken’s.

“I expect many of them will come over my way,” Nelson-Pallmeyer said.

Coleman issued a statement saying, in part, “Mike Ciresi should be applauded for his willingness to get into the arena and his desire to serve.”

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