Franken in bid to unseat Sen. Coleman

Al Franken
Al Franken talks to reporters after announcing he will run for the Senate seat held by Sen. Norm Coleman.
MPR Photo/Mark Zdechlik

Al Franken has been talking about running for Senate since shortly after his friend Paul Wellstone died in the plane crash in 2002. He used the final moments of his of his final Air America radio show to make it official.

Franken said he's proud of the work he did on his radio show, where for the better part of the last year he has lambasted the Bush administration over the war in Iraq.

"I'm not a professional politician," Franken said Wednesday. "I know I am going to make some mistakes and this is going to be the hardest thing I've ever done."

Welcome to the race
Minnesota Republican Party Chair Ron Carey welcomed Al Franken to the Senate race with a gift basket that includes a map of Minnesota. Carey says Franken has lived in Minnesota for only one out of the last 30 years. He also provided an anger management book "because he said he hates some politicians," according to Carey; and an Entertainment Weekly magazine, "so he can keep up to date with his Hollywood friends."
MPR Photo/Tom Scheck

On the way out of his studio tucked into a downtown Minneapolis office building, Franken's staff, along with his wife and a few friends, cheered him on. Franken found himself immediately responding to reporter questions about whether he will have difficultly getting Minnesotans to take him seriously. Franken said his radio show has kept him up on the issues and stumping around the state for other DFL candidates last year gave him confidence.

"I did about 50 events for the DFL and a lot of times people who come up to me who were fans but maybe didn't listen to radio show, and say ,I just thought you were a comedian,' I think they can tell I care about their lives and I take this deadly seriously," he said.

Franken says he's unhappy with what he calls a "lack of leadership" on the part of Republican Norm Coleman, particularly on the issue of Iraq.

MPR News is Reader Funded

Before you keep reading, take a moment to donate to MPR News. Your financial support ensures that factual and trusted news and context remain accessible to all.

"I want to go to Washington to lead on things like universal health care and an Apollo program for renewable energy and if I get into a position to do oversight on a war, I will do it," he said.

Coleman declined to comment. His campaign manager said the senator has demonstrated leadership and that the time for campaigning will come after the Democrats have settled on a candidate.

University of Minnesota political scientist Larry Jacobs says there's no escaping the volumes of Al Franken's rich, colorful and controversial statements. Jacobs says Republicans would love to run against Franken and their advertising agencies would have heaps of material from which to choose.

But despite Franken's reputation as a comedian and sharply satirical partisan, Jacobs says Franken has demonstrated he's a serious candidate.

"Franken ought to be given some credit," according to Jacobs,who says Franken has established the type of party-building track record DFL activists like.

"He came in and the idea of him running almost seemed like a laugh line," Jacobs said. "But he's been working pretty hard in Minnesota at a grassroots level, going around to different counties, meeting in small groups, fundraising for the Democratic Party and candidates and I think he's starting to gain some respect."

In the last election cycle Franken's "Midwest Values" political action committee distributed more than $135,000 to Democratic candidates for Congress, including several Minnesota DFLers such as Amy Klobuchar, Patty Wetterling and Tim Walz.

Jacobs says Franken probably has more support among DFL activists than Minneapolis attorney Mike Ciresi, who announced plans to run for Senate earlier in the week.

Ciresi angered many Democrats when he took on the endorsed Senate candidate in the 2000 primary. This time around Ciresi is pledging to honor the endorsement process as is Al Franken.

Democrats at many levels are optimistic, if not confident, that Sen. Coleman is ripe for defeat and many expect the field of Senate candidates will grow.

Already some lesser-known politicians are expressing interest.

Nancy Larson, one of Minnesota's representatives on the Democratic National Committee, says potential candidates need to jump in quickly to get activists' attention, even though the election is so far off.

Larson expects most activists will wait to see how the candidates handle themselves before committing.

"I think they're going to take their time and watch and see and listen and see who's got legs. Who's got staying power. Who's attracting the most interest with the voters."

Franken will begin his first day as an announced candidate for Senate with a tour of a health clinic in uptown Minneapolis. He'll head for northern Minnesota at the end of the week.