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Mike Ciresi launches his second Senate campaign

ST. PAUL -- Twin Cities trial attorney Mike Ciresi celebrated his 61st birthday Wednesday by announcing his candidacy for a U.S. Senate seat. Ciresi, who gained national attention after winning a settlement against the tobacco industry, joins com...

ST. PAUL -- Twin Cities trial attorney Mike Ciresi celebrated his 61st birthday Wednesday by announcing his candidacy for a U.S. Senate seat.

Ciresi, who gained national attention after winning a settlement against the tobacco industry, joins comedian Al Franken on the DFL ticket. Franken and Ciresi -- and maybe others -- will compete for incumbent Republican U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman's job.

Ciresi fashioned himself as an advocate for the middle class, which he said is "being squeezed from all sides," during an announcement at St. Paul's International Academy-LEAP School.

Ciresi pledged "dynamic and passionate leadership" to help right a country he said has lost its course over the past six years.

"We need a Senate," the Mendota Heights resident said against a backdrop of supporters, "that will support investments that provide working men and women opportunity and security for their families."

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Ciresi said he would be a champion for universal health care, an end to the war in Iraq and increasing alternate energy sources.

Experience in litigating special-interest cases will serve as the backbone of his campaign, he said.

"We took on cases - not because it was the thing to do - but because it was the right thing to do," Ciresi said of cases taken on at the law firm Robins, Kaplan, Miller & Ciresi.

Republicans quickly issued a statement characterizing Ciresi as "a liberal's liberal."

"It's the same old tired liberal rhetoric we heard from Mike Ciresi seven years ago when he lost," Minnesota Republican Party spokesman Mark Drake said.

Still, Drake predicted the race will be a competitive one.

After losing the Democratic endorsement in 2000, Ciresi pressed on to a primary election, where he lost his first U.S. Senate bid to eventual winner Mark Dayton.

Ciresi said he would abide the party's endorsement in 2008; Franken made the same commitment after announcing his run.

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Jess McIntosh, a spokeswoman for the Franken campaign, declined to size up Ciresi as an opponent, saying "there's plenty of time for distinction between the candidates."

"We welcome him into the race and we welcome the debate," she said.

Asked how he plans to differentiate himself in the face of Franken's national celebrity, Ciresi quipped, "Don't I have a recognizable name?"

Ciresi, surprised no one with the announcement after forming a committee to explore candidacy months ago, enters a race that has seen remarkable fund-raising efforts thus far.

Since his February announcement, Franken has raised $1.35 million. Coleman raised $1.53 million from January to March.

Despite Franken's strong start, Ciresi said he's confident in his own fund-raising ability, noting he has a "broad network" of supporters he can tap.

"We'll raise a lot of funds in Minnesota and we can also raise funds across the nation," Ciresi said, adding that almost a quarter of Franken's funding came from Minnesota.

Ciresi also rejected Republicans' characterization of him, saying he's "not just a tax-and-spend person as they like to paint me."

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However, he said, tax-and-spenders "are a lot better" than those who pass on debt by spending and not raising taxes.

"I don't believe that that's the proper way to vote," Ciresi said.

Mike Longaecker works for Forum Communications Co., which owns the Bemidji Pioneer.

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