Senator Franken: Part Hillary, Part Teddy, Not Liddy

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What can we expect from Sen. Al Franken? My colleague, Jay Newton-Small at Time, makes some predictions about his impact here. All true, I say. But I'd add a few other points. First, you can fully expect Franken to follow the Hillary model for how to be a celebrity Senator. (It's also the Obama model, to a lesser degree.) That is, keep your head down. Don't do a lot of TV, at first. Go genuflect to Robert Byrd and sit in his ornate Capitol office and let the giant of West Virginia ramble on about the Romans and talk about the minutiae of Senate rules. In other words, don't act like you're a celebrity senator deserving of more airtime than Mark Begich or Tom Udall. Franken will do his homework, study hard and pay attention to constituent services just like Clinton did when she came to the Senate in 2001. Anyone who expects Air America appearances, books, or showboating at hearings will probably be disappointed.

If Franken proved anything in Minnesota this past year, it's that he can run a disciplined campaign, and he'll do the same in the Senate. (Franken, I should note, is a friend so take my prediction with that in mind.) It's not that Franken will stay quiet for years and years. But it'll be a while before you see him on "Meet the Press" or running for leadership posts like DSCC chair. (Elizabeth Dole did not follow the celebrity-turned-senator rule and became RSCC chair for the 2006 cycle, narrowly beating Norm Coleman, who would have been much better at the job. She got clobbered by Chuck Schumer in fundraising and her lackluster performance is one reason there wasn't too much sobbing in the GOP when Liddy Dole got thrown out of office after one term.)

Franken's greatest role may be as GOP rallying cry. A couple of months ago, I wrote at Talkingpointsmemo.com that Republicans should give up their might against seating Franken because he was going to win anyway and he'd be a great rallying cry for the disheartened and dyspeptic GOP. (Imagine Sen. Ann Coulter rallying the Democratic base in 2005.) Republicans have been in need of a good Democratic villain. Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi, Dick Durbin, Chuck Schumer--they've all appeared in various conservative television ads but none have the traction that Ted Kennedy did back in the days when the mere mention of his name in conservative direct mail campaigns could elicit growls from the faithful. Franken can play that role now that Kennedy is in his twilight. Of course, a disciplined Franken is unlikely to provide the fodder anytime soon. But by his mere history as a liberal polemicist he's likely to get the GOP rallied in a way they haven't been for sometime. I imagine Rush Limbaugh, who Franken famously dubbed "a big fat idiot," will get something out of this tomorrow.

As for Norm Coleman, he clearly did the right thing by not trying to drag this already delayed election into federal court, where he would likely lose. It's hard to imagine him coming back from this to run against Franken or the state's other U.S. Senator, Amy Klobuchar, but stranger things have happened. Besides, the possibility of unseating Al Franken in 2014--a year that sounds far enough in the future that it sounds like something on the Jetsons--is something already on the minds of Republicans.

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Matthew Cooper is a managing editor (White House) for National Journal.

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