The liberal radio show host and comedian began telephoning Democrats with his decision on Wednesday.
WASHINGTON - Comedian and radio talk show host Al Franken has begun calling Democratic members of Congress and prominent DFLers to tell them he will definitely challenge Republican Sen. Norm Coleman in 2008, the Star Tribune learned Wednesday.
On Monday, Franken announced that he is quitting his radio show on Feb. 14, and he told his audience that they'd be the first to know of his decision. But Franken has been working the phones, telling his political friends he's ready to declare his candidacy.
Franken made calls to at least two members of the Minnesota congressional delegation in Washington and one member of the Legislature to break the news. The sources spoke on the condition of anonymity, not wanting to be identified as pre-empting Franken's announcement.
"From his voice to my ears, he's running," said one House member, who relayed the remark via his press secretary.
"I can tell you we got one of those calls," said a top-ranked aide for another House member.
A long-time DFL state House member said she was happy to receive a call from Franken. "He said he's in and he just wanted to let me know."
Franken declined to be interviewed.
"He's not going to comment on his private conversations," said Andy Barr, his spokesman. But he added that Franken has "made no secret" of his interest in Coleman's seat.
No other big-name Democrats have announced plans to challenge Coleman, who's expected to be among the most vulnerable GOP incumbents next year.
Franken, who grew up in St. Louis Park, achieved fame in New York as a comedy writer for NBC-TV's "Saturday Night Live" and went on to become a best-selling author. He moved his radio show to Minneapolis last year and has become increasingly active in Minnesota and national politics.
His Midwest Values political action committee raised more than $1.1 million and he distributed checks of $10,000 each last year to Democratic Sens. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Claire McCaskill of Missouri and to Rep. Tim Walz, D-Minn.; he gave smaller amounts to dozens of other national and state candidates.
After seeing an account of Franken's calls on the Star Tribune website, Minnesota Republican Party Chairman Ron Carey issued a statement criticizing Franken's "anger and slash-and-burn partisanship."
Coleman himself has had little to say about Franken, but in an interview last year he said he expected him to be "a very strong voice for the far left" and a strong fundraiser. Republicans will try to exploit Franken's ties to Hollywood: Contributors to his political action committee have included Barbra Streisand, Phil Donahue, Larry Hagman and Norman Lear from the entertainment industry, as well as former Minnesota Gov. Wendell Anderson and Minneapolis attorney Sam Kaplan.
Franken expects his years in New York to be an issue in the campaign but has had a ready line as he promotes himself to Minnesota audiences: "If I do run against Norm Coleman in '08, I'll be the only New York Jew in the race who actually grew up in Minnesota."
Coleman grew up in New York and moved to Minnesota as an adult.
Rob Hotakainen is a correspondent in the Star Tribune Washington Bureau: 202-383-0009
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