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Thursday, May 15, 2008 

Franken Hires New Campaign Manager

As you've no doubt read in the past 10 hours, Al Franken's campaign replaced its campaign manager today. Conservatives, including MDE, take this to mean that Franken's campaign is somehow struggling, that this is a "staff shake-up". You can decide for yourself how Franken's campaign is doing, but as current reported, this seems to be a routine and evolutionary development for a campaign.

Campaign staff, from a campaign manager/campaign chair on down, play much more of a role in what you see and hear from a candidate than most people would realize. Candidates for statewide or federal offices usually have their words written for them, their appearances scheduled by others, their policy packages developed by staff, and so on. All this happens under the direction and leadership of the candidate, of course, but the name on the ballot is rarely intimately involved with the everyday details of the campaign - these are farmed out to staff. There is a fairly small circle of people in the political world who are qualified to hold high-level positions on a major campaign (experience, managerial skill, and political acumen being crucial) and these people are sought after, going from campaign job to campaign job, sometimes moving between elections work and government positions. As with everyone else, these people have their respective strengths and weaknesses, ability and skill sets, and specialties - among which can be getting their candidates through primary seasons.

Now, I don't know anything about Andy Barr, who seems to have been Franken's campaign manager until now, but the fact is that he has cleared the field for Franken (which used to be more competitive, especially with Ciresi having run). This means that the first half of the campaign is complete - Franken has raised piles of money, gotten onto voters' radar screens, and most importantly all but sewn up the nomination, with no primary challenge likely. That's an unqualified victory at this point. If Barr (for whom I can't find much about online) is either inexperienced or a specialist in primaries, he probably isn't the best choice for the next six months. As the Franken campaign pivots to focusing on the general election, it makes sense to bring in new blood, starting at the top.

The campaign's new head, Stephanie Shriock, seems to be the kind of staffer who couldn't be more perfect (at least on paper) if she'd been custom-ordered. She is a Minnesota native (familiarity with the terrain is invaluable), came up in Minnesota campaigns, and is coming off a campaign season in which she pulled off a major upset, having managed Sen. Jon Tester's victory in Montana. That's an awfully good resume.

While the campaign has gone through a rough patch lately, it's hard to make the case that it's anyone's fault but Franken's. The tax debacle is past, and the blame can't be laid on anyone in the campaign except Franken himself. In fact, the campaign's response neutralized the issue much more effectively than could have been. Other aspects of the campaign seem to be running smoothly - fundraising has been steady, and Franken seems to be in good shape for his contest with Sen. Coleman.

While the Republicans would like us to think that Franken is on the ropes, it's just not true. Having to face a well-known and -funded opponent to their slippery, flip-flopping, Bush-loving incumbent, they're getting nervous. It's hard to blame them. But today's news seems to be routine in the life of a campaign, and certainly no need to worry. Especially given that Barr and his co-manager David Benson are both staying with the campaign, I'd tend to believe their assertion that this was always in the cards for the campaign.

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