ROCHESTER - U.S. Senate candidate Al Franken took the DFL endorsement by acclamation on Saturday, after a day of questions, speeches and fretting by some activists over whether the controversial satirist can wage a focused campaign to unseat Republican U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman.
After being publicly and privately urged to do so, Franken tackled the issue of his sometimes sexually explicit humor head on, with the outright apology that many had been waiting for.
"It kills me that things I said and wrote sent a message ... that they can't count on me to be a champion for women, for all Minnesotans. I'm sorry for that. Because that's not who I am," Franken told delegates.
Franken acknowledged that in his often edgy career as a comedian. "I wrote a lot of jokes. Some of them weren't funny. Some of them weren't appropriate. Some of them were downright offensive. I understand that."
Franken then turned attention to Coleman, saying that "there are some people in Washington who could afford to feel a little less comfortable." Drawing on his strength as an acerbic critic of Republicans, Franken said that he would "stand up to Norm Coleman in a way he's never been stood up to before."
In the end, DFLers agreed with Franken and were preparing to endorse him on the first ballot when Franken's rival, Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer withdrew. Franken had garnered nearly 62 percent of the votes, slightly more than needed for endorsement.
Franken said he accepted endorsement in a "spirit of tremendous gratitude and tremendous humility" and would dedicate himself to the tasks of securing universal health care, leveling the economic playing field, improving educational opportunities and withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq.
"We have a lot of work to do together," he told cheering delegates. "We're going to canvass until our feet hurt, and when our feet hurt, we'll pick up the phone. ... We're going to do it because five million Minnesotans need a voice in Washington and they don't have one in Norm Coleman."
In a passionate acceptance speech, Franken said he offered the combined ability to take Coleman to task while laying out a hopeful vision that would propel Democrats to reclaim the Senate seat once held by DFL icon Paul Wellstone.
Republicans were ready with a line of attack that pegged Franken as their "dream candidate." State Republican chairman Ron Carey said that Minnesotans would not be fooled by what he called an "eleventh-hour apology made out of political necessity." Carey hinted broadly that the GOP would have additional revelations about Franken, who has taken a pounding in recent weeks for tax problems and for his often profane style of humor.
Franken said that further broadsides against him reflected an effort by Republicans to make the race "about anything but Norm Coleman's record."
Franken came into the convention on Friday dogged by controversy over a soft-porn parody written for Playboy in 2000 and an earlier skit involving an imagined rape that he once pitched during his "Saturday Night Live" days.
Some Nelson-Pallmeyer supporters took defeat hard.
As Nelson-Pallmeyer gave a concession speech Saturday, a young supporter wearing a green-and-white campaign shirt and a headset stood in the back of the hall, accepted hugs and cried slightly. She raised her hands high above her head as Nelson-Pallmeyer finished speaking.
Asked by a reporter whether she could comment on the defeat she bowed her head. "I'd rather not, I'm sorry," she said.
Speaking to reporters shortly after endorsement, Franken again acknowledged that he wasn't "a perfect person."
The coming campaign, he said, should revolve around the issues that matter to Minnesotans. But few expected that Franken will be able to avoid continuing attacks on past writings that some have found demeaning to women.
State Rep. Nora Slawik, a delegate and early supporter, wondered aloud whether voters would be as forgiving of Franken as party activists.
"We know we're going to be on defense with Franken," she said, her mouth tightening with worry. "Will that hurt us? I support him, but I do worry."
U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who had remained neutral throughout the Senate contest, had publicly urged Franken to apologize. After his endorsement, she sought him out on stage and held his hand aloft in a gesture of solidarity that brought thunderous applause from DFLers.
"We're going into this unified," said DFL state party chair Brian Melendez.
But two of Franken's earlier critics, U.S. Reps. Betty McCollum and Jim Oberstar, were notably absent from the stage when Franken accepted the endorsement.
Mari Urness Pokornowski of Cokato, president of the DFL Feminist Caucus, resigned Saturday when she learned that her group had endorsed Franken. As a mother and former teacher, she said, she didn't see how Franken's writings represented rural Minnesota values.
The endorsement, she said, "was a choice made by the caucus, and once that decision is made, you have to make a choice where you stand, For me, my decision was to step down."
Years of work paid off
With red, white and blue confetti fluttering down, pounding rock anthems and an all-star line of DFL officials, Saturday's endorsement was a stark contrast to last week's far quieter, uncontested Republican endorsement of Coleman.
Energized by a day of spirited exchanges, some delegates wasted little time in jumping on the Franken bandwagon.
As Nelson-Pallmeyer was giving his concession speech, Diana Slyter of Minneapolis was busy pinning a blue-and- white Al Franken button atop her Nelson-Pallmeyer shirt.
"Now, Franken's endorsed. I'm supporting him," she said. She also held two large Franken campaign signs. "I'll put these on my [motorcycle] sidecar," she added.
Franken had built a strong grass-roots campaign before his entry in the Senate race, launching a Midwest Values political action committee that raised money for DFL candidates across the state as far back as 2005. On Saturday, connections forged over years paid off.
DFL operative Dan Cramer, a veteran of Wellstone's upstart campaign, said Franken had shown DFLers both steel and heart in the daylong contest.
"A lot of people came here uncommitted, shopping for a U.S. senator, and today they saw one," Cramer said.