In his first ad since capturing the DFL endorsement for U.S. Senate, Al Franken hits on an unlikely first target: the U.S. reconstruction of Iraq.

The television ad, which begins airing today in the Twin Cities, Duluth, Rochester and Mankato, notes that while infrastructure in America has languished, the United States has poured money into building more than 800 schools in war-torn Iraq; 4,800 water and sewer projects, and 1,000 roads and bridges.

The United States, Franken says in the ad, should bring troops home "and focus here, on education, health care, jobs and infrastructure."

Typically, Senate candidates who advertise in early summer produce soft, introductory ads intended to define them with voters.

But at a news conference Monday where the ad was introduced, Franken campaign spokesman Andy Barr said the race against Republican U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman is one about "the choice that the people in Minnesota are going to make between staying the course and a new direction. There really is no more fundamental choice than on Iraq."

Immediately afterward, Coleman campaign manager Cullen Sheehan was on hand to tell reporters that Coleman also thought the Iraqi government should bear a higher cost for reconstruction, but added that the United States bears "some responsibility."

Coleman has said he would not support a timetable for U.S. withdrawal in Iraq, saying that the decision on withdrawal should be guided by U.S. military recommendations. Barr said Franken supports a withdrawal as rapidly as possible, but also gave no definitive timetable.

Coleman meets reporters

In an earlier, informal sit-down with reporters at his campaign office in St. Paul, Coleman attempted to frame the race as a comparison of public service records and served notice that he will make an issue of satirist Franken's long and colorful history of making provocative statements.

"There's no record, or minimal, record of public service, of giving back to the community," Coleman said of Franken. The issues, he said, will be "your record, will be your temperament, will be the ability to get things done. You just don't parachute into Minnesota and say, 'I'm going to be a senator and here's my agenda.' I will talk about the things I have gotten done."

Sheehan said Coleman has been a strong advocate for U.S. improvements and was instrumental in obtaining funding to rebuild the collapsed I-35W bridge and for the planned Central Corridor light-rail line.

Barr said Franken's call for a timed withdrawal of Iraq represented a sharp difference with Coleman and would present a "keystone choice" for voters. Barr said Franken would be laying out other "investment" proposals throughout the campaign.

Both campaigns remained dismissive of a potential candidate -- former Gov. Jesse Ventura. Coleman, who lost to Ventura in the 1998 gubernatorial race, said, "Minnesota has seen the 'Ventura show.'"

Barr said that "my guess is the governor is out there selling some books and we wish him good luck."

Patricia Lopez • 651-222-1288