Following an aggressive turn in DFLer Al Franken's Senate campaign, Republican Sen. Norm Coleman weighed in Wednesday with a deceptively genial TV ad that offhandedly thrashes Franken for his personal financial lapses and occasionally racy comedy work.

For the first time in the campaign, the Coleman ad mentions last spring's revelations that Franken's personal corporation for several years had failed to buy worker's compensation insurance in New York and that Franken had paid income taxes to the wrong states.

The ad shows three regular guys sitting at a bowling alley, including the "Joe Bowler" character featured in a previous ad that credits Coleman with returning professional hockey to Minnesota when he was mayor of St. Paul.

As his two pals mug in agreement, Joe Bowler also brings up "tasteless, sexist jokes" and "that juicy porn" from Franken's comedic past as proof that the bowlers are just as qualified as Franken to run for the U.S. Senate.

"And we're better bowlers," he concludes.

The ad doesn't address Franken's stands on issues, and his campaign Wednesday characterized it as a "misleading smear" attack by Coleman.

"Given his record of selling out Minnesota's middle class to Big Oil and special interests and lining up in lockstep with George W. Bush, he's desperate to find something, anything else to talk about," said Franken spokesman Andy Barr.

The Coleman campaign defended the accuracy of its ad.

In the past week the Franken campaign, in a TV ad and an online spoof of the previous Coleman "Joe Bowler" ad, has vigorously denounced the senator's votes for the Iraq war and the Bush tax cuts, and another vote he took that resulted in student loan reductions.

The Coleman campaign said that ad distorted the senator's record and called it the start of "full-on attack mode" in the campaign, a charge the Franken camp denied.

Kevin Duchschere • 612-673-4455