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Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton joined DFL Senate candidate Al Franken on Tuesday for a rousing rally at the University of Minnesota designed to jump-start what Franken called "a true statewide grass-roots campaign" to turn out Democrats on Election Day.
The goal, Clinton said, is to make Barack Obama president and give him a filibuster-proof Democratic majority in the Senate that includes Franken, who is waging a tough battle against Republican incumbent Norm Coleman and Independence Party candidate Dean Barkley.
"Unless we reach 60 votes in the Senate, we won't end the Bush era," Clinton told the crowd, estimated by organizers at more than 2,000 in and around the McNamara Alumni Center on the Minneapolis campus. "Al Franken, with your help, can be our 60th vote in the United States Senate."
Clinton was the second nationally prominent Democrat to visit Minnesota in two days. On Monday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was in the Twin Cities to stump for Third Congressional District candidate Ashwin Madia.
Clinton and Franken have known each other for years, going back to Bill Clinton's election to the presidency in 1992. During the Clinton years, Franken directed a five-minute parody of the movie "Forrest Gump" starring the then-First Lady that brought down the house at the annual Gridiron Club dinner. In addition, the Clintons invited Franken and his wife to the White House to screen his 1995 movie, "Stuart Saves His Family."
The staunchly DFL crowd, warmed up by a series of luminaries that included an enthusiastic Mrs. Molin -- Franken's fourth-grade teacher made famous in an early campaign ad -- sang "Happy Birthday" to Clinton (she turns 61 on Sunday) and cheered wildly as she likened Franken's "progressive voice" to that of the late Sen. Paul Wellstone, "someone Al and I still revere."
Clinton hailed Franken as a fighter who isn't afraid to battle those who he sees standing in the way of middle-class families like the one in St. Louis Park in which he grew up.
Franken, by turns funny and fiery in his 23-minute speech, said he's committed to realizing "the promise of America" for working families -- good jobs, housing, health care, education and the chance "to reach for something meaningful and pass on a better life to their kids."
A man in the crowd yelled "Al Franken, pro-American!" -- a reference to Sixth District U.S. Rep Michele Bachmann's suggestion last week that the media examine members of Congress to see who is pro-America and who is not.
"I wouldn't necessarily be so sure," Franken said, then paused and added, "Mr. Bachmann."
At another point, when Franken asked the crowd whether they remembered Bill Clinton's presidency -- "passing off the largest surplus in history, 23 million new jobs, remember that?" -- someone yelled "Vaguely!"
"I'll do the jokes," Franken said, causing Clinton to crack up.
Franken urged supporters to join a two-week effort to deploy 77,000 volunteers to make 1.5 million phone calls and knock on 2.8 million doors to sign up voters for the DFL ticket. The election could come down to a few votes, he said, and "I don't want to wake up on Nov. 5 and wish I'd done just a little bit more, and neither do you."
Dennis Rueschman, who works in customer service for a health care insurer, said he had already talked to more than a dozen undecided voters trying to push them into the Franken camp.
"I've always been impressed with Al, all the way back to 'Saturday Night Live,'" said Rueschman, 49, of Richfield. "I think he's going to be good. It can't be worse than what we've got now."
After the rally, Franken was to accompany Clinton to an Obama rally in Hibbing.
Coleman spokesman Mark Drake said that the GOP welcomed Clinton to Minnesota and that she would find "a state where the Minnesota values that Norm Coleman has fought for over the past 32 years remain strong and vibrant."
Kevin Duchschere • 612-673-4455