Al Franken vs. Norm Coleman gets down and dirty

The senate race between the Republican incumbent and the former SNL comedian is the most expensive in the country

Coleman's wife, Laurie, has long been the subject of intrigue and speculation. One of The Hill's "50 Most Beautiful on Capitol Hill" and an aspiring actress, there has long been whispered innuendo that she was more interested in Hollywood stardom than life with boring old Norm.

Which brings us to the infamous Green-Screened Wife conspiracy theory.

In mid-June, the Coleman campaign unveiled an ad, set in the Colemans' kitchen, starring Laurie. Gripping a coffee mug and addressing the camera, she defends her hubby against allegations that he's been a rubber stamp for the president. Meanwhile, Norm lurks in the background with a cup of joe, casually flipping through the morning paper, perhaps noticing his plummeting poll numbers.

Dan Picasso
Darin Back

Almost immediately after the ad's debut, however, online observers began suggesting that Laurie had actually been filmed at a separate location (probably L.A., went the theory) and digitally added in.

"The lighting is wrong!" went the online chatter. "The angle of the counter is out of whack! She's out of proportion! Obviously a hoax!"

Two days later, Coleman released outtakes proving that, yes, Laurie was in fact in the kitchen with him during the filming.

"On it's face it's so outrageous," says right-wing blogger Michael Brodkorb of Minnesota Democrats Exposed. "Even after Coleman released the footage, some of them didn't even offer a correction."

Dueling bowlers

"Norm Coleman brought hockey back."

So we're told by a polyester-clad bowler in a Coleman ad released July 11.

Days later, Franken offered a bowling-themed ad of his own. Only this Joe Bowler wasn't a fan of Coleman.

"He voted to give billions of tax breaks to oil companies!" the alley cat says of Coleman. "Now they're raking in record profits and we're paying four bucks a gallon for gas!"

The triple turkey of the bowling ads came from the Coleman campaign. This time Joe Bowler brought along his buddies! The guys bitch about "tasteless, sexist jokes" and "that juicy porn" put out by Franken.

Because we all know there's nothing potbellied, beer-guzzling bowlers hate more than crude jokes and pornography.

Photo shop

Just days before the Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minnesota Democrats issued a weird bounty: $532.88—the amount Coleman paid his D.C. landlord for a year's worth of utilities—to anybody who managed to snap a photograph of Norm Coleman next to Dubya at the Xcel Energy Center.

Unfortunately, Hurricane Gustav proved the more fetching photo op for our sitting president, so would-be paparazzi missed their shot at the loot.

The project's intent was to visually reinforce what Franken had been hammering on the previous year: that Coleman was a Bush yes man. Franken and his surrogates love to point out the fact that Coleman has voted with Bush 86 percent of the time.

But longtime Minnesota political observer Barry Casselman says the stat is misleading.

"Most of those votes are procedural things," Casselman points out. "You could apply the same test to many Democrats and the results would come out saying they side with Bush the majority of the time."

Something's fishy

Franken's may be the first political campaign in U.S. history to employ a talking, mounted fish as a spokesman.

"Over 10,000 lakes in Minnesota, but where does Norm Coleman go fishing?" the fish asked in its August debut. "Alaska! Indicted Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens flew him up! And got big oil honchos to give thousands just to fish with Norm! Now one of the oil guys Norm went fishing with has been convicted of bribery!"

While the ad was swimming in innuendo, there wasn't much in the way of hard evidence to sink the hook.

"The questions we should ask ourselves are, how serious is this and how well do we know this to be case?" says Steve Schier, a political science professor at Carleton College. "I think there's been some exaggeration of the gravity of Coleman's transgressions on the part of Franken's side."

In case you're wondering, the fish appears to be a smallmouth bass.

You wouldn't like him when he's angry

On September 12, the Coleman campaign blindsided Minnesota TV viewers with their "Angry Al" ad. We're shown footage of Franken at a Howard Dean fundraiser, looking as if he's about to morph into the Incredible Hulk.

"These people are so [expletive deleted] shameless!" Franken bellows to the crowd, presumably in reference to Republicans.

As if that weren't enough, Coleman released another ad days later featuring a scowling, maniacally gesturing Franken and the message: "His profanity-laced anger, followed by violent outbursts. He physically assaulted a protester."

But a few weeks after the ads' debut, it was revealed that the most memorable image—a rabid Franken addressing the crowd with Hitleresque fervor—had been taken woefully out of context. Franken wasn't angry; he was doing an affectionate impression of the late Paul Wellstone trotting alongside his son, David, at cross-country meets.

"'You can take this guy!'" Franken had shouted before the chuckling crowd, mimicking Wellstone's excited flailing. "'You can take this guy!'"

As for the ad's claim that Franken had "attacked a protester": At a January 2004 rally for Howard Dean in Manchester, New Hampshire, a crazed heckler leaped onto the stage, at which point Franken and two security guards grabbed his shoulders and restrained him.

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