By Sam Brodey
Wednesday, August 24, 2016
This year — most likely due to their stunning record of accomplishments in the last few months — members of Congress were granted one of the longest summer recesses in recent memory: a seven-week reprieve from Washington spanning from mid-July to after Labor Day.
That means more time kicking back at the lake, right? For a few Minnesota Democrats, not so much.
Sen. Al Franken and Rep. Keith Ellison have spent a good deal of their recesses at far-flung party dinners, phone banks, and campus Democratic clubs, trying to get people fired up for Hillary Clinton and for Democratic candidates down the ballot.
Their travels reflect what a close observer of the Democratic National Convention might have teased out from the proceedings — that the Clinton campaign views these Minnesotans as valuable assets with distinct roles to play on the campaign trail.
Ellison, who introduced Sen. Bernie Sanders at the convention, is seen as a bridge to the progressive wing of the party; Franken, who mocked Trump in a convention speech, used to pick apart right-wing talkers for a living.
Now, as voters settle in for the home stretch of the general election, these Minnesota pols are beginning to fan out around the country to make the case for Clinton and other Democrats.
Rep. Ellison might not be as nationally high-profile as Franken, but he’s been the most active Minnesotan on the campaign trail for Clinton and other Democrats this summer.
Since the convention, the Minneapolis Democrat has traveled to California, Florida, Colorado, Wisconsin, North Carolina, and Nebraska for the Clinton campaign.
As the campaign of Sanders — who Ellison endorsed for president early on — came to a close, Ellison emerged as an ideal messenger for Clinton, someone who could help bridge the gap between her and the progressives who backed Sanders.
During the DNC, Ellison’s role as a peacemaker became clear as he made the rounds with various state delegations, urging Sanders supporters to vote and organize for Clinton.
A stalwart progressive with an organizer’s pedigree, Ellison has credibility with certain constituencies that few other Clinton surrogates do — particularly with college students.
In Florida and Wisconsin — two important general election swing states — Ellison visited with organizers on college campuses to get them going for Clinton. At a meeting with student Democrats at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, he talked up Clinton, bashed Trump, and offered strategies to increase voter turnout.
He also warned against third-party candidates — notably Green Party nominee Jill Stein, who Democrats fear may attract Sanders’ most ardent supporters.
According to the Daily Cardinal, a UW student newspaper, Ellison said “I’m sure [Stein] is a fine person, but if she’s polling at two, three, four percent, then she’s not going nowhere; therefore, any vote for her is a vote for Trump.”
This week, at the University of Central Florida in Orlando, Ellison appeared with California Rep. Barbara Lee for the rollout of a Florida voter registration drive touted by the Clinton campaign; also in Florida, he helped with a Muslim supporters phone bank for Clinton and spoke with African-American small business owners.
Ellison is also slated to go to Michigan, where Clinton was upset in the primaries and a top state Trump is targeting, later in the recess.
Franken pushes for Clinton and a Democratic Senate
Since arriving in the Senate in 2009, Franken has mostly kept his one-liners and most biting attack lines in check. That’s changed this cycle, as he’s emerged as a persistent advocate for Clinton, and for returning his chamber to Democratic control.
But those expecting Franken to go fully Saturday Night Live on the campaign trail might be disappointed — his cracks have been matched by sober testimonials on Clinton’s trustworthiness and the importance of a Democratic Senate.
Since the convention, the party has wasted little time in deploying Franken across the country to make the case for Clinton and other Democrats: last weekend, Franken went to northern Nevada, swinging through the state capital, Carson City, and the region’s largest city, Reno.
At Democratic Party headquarters in Carson City, Franken called Trump a narcissist, according to the local Nevada Appeal, and added that you’d need a “doctorate from Trump University” to understand him.
Franken brought up Michael Bloomberg’s remarks at the DNC, in which he said that Americans should elect a president who is “sane and competent.” He said, “That’s the lowest bar we’ve ever had, but it’s true.”
Franken worked in some good local pandering, too: the local paper noted his correct pronunciation of Nevada — Nev-AD-a — a topic of great import in the state.
In Reno, where his stop included a trip to the Sands Hotel-Casino, Franken called Nevada “ground zero” for the 2016 election, saying it would be one of a few states where the battle for the White House and the U.S. Senate would be truly decided.
He also took an opportunity to push back against the notion that Clinton is untrustworthy.
Franken drew on anecdotes from the Senate, where Clinton served from 2001 to 2009. “I have not met one Republican who I’ve served with who served with Hillary who hasn’t said that her word is good and they could trust her,” he said, according to the Reno Gazette-Journal.
“I’ve known her for about 22 years and I trust her to do this job.”
In both cities, Franken plugged former Nevada attorney general Catherine Cortez Masto, who is running for the seat of longtime Nevada Sen. Harry Reid, who is retiring. He called her contest against U.S. Rep. Joe Heck a “dead heat.”
As the U.S. Senator who arrived to D.C. with the narrowest margin of victory — 312 votes — Franken is well-positioned to talk about the importance of showing up to vote in tight races.
Franken has ventured closer to home as well. Earlier in the recess, he went to Illinois to campaign for Rep. Tammy Duckworth, who is running Senate against incumbent GOP Sen. Mark Kirk. In July, during the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Franken appeared at Clinton field offices in northern Ohio.