As Norm Coleman’s campaign continues to fight with Al Franken for every vote (and seemingly every procedural move) in the highly watched Senate race recount, his DFL colleague Amy Klobuchar remains the most popular figure in Minnesota politics.
Prior to his 15+ round heavyweight fight with Franken, Senator Coleman too was a reasonably popular figure in Minnesota politics, boasting favorability ratings in the mid-50s as late as April of this year. Those ratings would plummet by the end of the campaign to the low-40s after several fierce debates and a controversial advertising campaign. Coleman’s job approval ratings also sunk, from the low 50s in April down to the high 30s by the end of the campaign in October.
Since Election Day, his early declaration of victory aside, Coleman has tried to distance himself from the controversies surrounding the recount (leaving that to his campaign and attorneys), by continuing to cast key votes on Capitol Hill. (Should Coleman get re-elected, he does not want his approval or favorability numbers to have sunk even further).
Klobuchar, however, has enjoyed what looks on the surface to be a two-year honeymoon period: the junior Senator’s approval ratings have ranged in the high 50s to mid-60s in sixteen consecutive polls dating back to July 2007 through October of this year. Klobuchar’s disapproval rating has yet to reach 40 percent in her tenure in D.C.
Klobuchar has some inherent advantages over Coleman that would tend to make her more popular in the Gopher State, not the least of which is that the state tilts blue – although that is only probably good for a few points. Klobuchar’s perennially sunny disposition (and a smile that appears much more natural than Coleman’s) is the embodiment of Minnesota Nice, which might also be good for a few more points.
But if one examines each Senator’s voting record, Coleman has been vastly more bipartisan than Klobuchar – something that Minnesotans should tend to reward, with the high percentage (30+ percent) of independents in the state. When Klobuchar was running for her Senate seat in 2006, a poll conducted by Rasmussen two months before the election found only 42 percent of Minnesotans viewed Klobuchar as having a liberal political ideology (a near equal amount, 37 percent, viewed her as a moderate). According to Congressional Quarterly, however, Coleman has broken with his party leadership more than most Senators in D.C. (at 21 percent), and at a far greater clip than Klobuchar (7 percent); still, the same Rasmussen poll found a greater percentage of Minnesotans viewed Coleman as conservative (46 percent) than Klobuchar as liberal. Perhaps those numbers will change in future polls now that Klobuchar has a concrete voting record in Congress.
Should Coleman emerge victorious in his political (and legal) battles with Franken, despite his history of bipartisanship, the Senator will undoubtedly be viewed as more partisan and less favorable than Klobuchar as well much more negative than he was before the 2008 campaign heated up last spring. (Coleman's unfavorability numbers still exceed 50 percent, according to a December 4th Rasmussen poll).
With dozens of millions of dollars spent on the U.S. Senate race to date, Coleman hasn't been able to afford to play Minnesota Nice, and that legacy, unfortunately for the Senator, may ultimately overshadow his own bipartisan voting record - at least in the near future.