The comedian-turned-politician will bring controversy and a show-business spotlight to his bid to unseat Norm Coleman.
As he announced his candidacy for the U.S. Senate Wednesday, Al Franken confronted the central question he may face in the early going -- whether a lifelong comic should be taken seriously.
"Minnesotans have a right to be skeptical," Franken said in a video message on his campaign website that declared his run for the U.S. Senate seat now held by Republican Norm Coleman.
"I want you to know: Nothing means more to me than making government work better for the working families of this state," Franken said. "And over the next 20 months I look forward to proving to you that I take these issues seriously."
Offering stories about his childhood in Minnesota and about how his family was helped by federal education and Social Security programs, Franken said, "Your government should have your back. That should be our mission in Washington, the one FDR [President Franklin D. Roosevelt] gave us during another challenging time: freedom from fear."
Republican Party officials and conservative bloggers have been issuing preemptive attacks on Franken for weeks, focusing on some of his more outrageous skits on "Saturday Night Live" and other performances, and his role in recent years as a scathing critic of President Bush and other conservatives.
"Given his blind partisanship and extreme anger, Al Franken is the last person Minnesotans need in the United States Senate," Republican Party chairman Ron Carey said in a statement before the announcement. "While Sen. Norm Coleman continues to work with all sides for the betterment of our state and nation, Franken offers Minnesotans nothing but polarization and vitriolic personal attacks."
Franken talked about his candidacy on the last half-hour of his last show on Air America, a progressive talk-radio network he helped found almost three years ago, and which recently was sold after it went bankrupt.
"I know that I have an awful lot to learn from Minnesotans," he said, "and I know I'm going to make mistakes and this is going to be the hardest thing I've ever done."
After the show, Franken hugged radio staff members and jokingly told reporters, "Well, as you can see, I'm an angry man." He also responded to the accusation that he was driven by "extreme anger."I'm not an angry person, but I do get angry about things like this [Iraq] war."
Franken was unequivocal on whether he will abide by the DFL Party endorsement process and stay out of a primary election if he fails to secure the endorsement of party activists. "I'm going to abide," Franken said.
Carey held a news conference after the announcement and distributed four pages of quotes from Franken over the years, including his recent description of Coleman as "one of the [Bush] administration's leading butt boys."
Carey said Franken would be "incredibly flawed as a candidate" because "he has said so many bizarre things."' However, he acknowledged that the Senate race is likely to be very close because Minnesota has become "a very split state" between DFLers and Republicans.
Bean feeds and burger bashes
One important asset Franken brings to the race is more than a year of grass-roots interaction with DFL activists through his Midwest Values Political Action Committee, which contributed about $1 million to DFL candidates and local party units. Franken said he has been to countless "bean feeds and burger bashes" around the state and was a big help to DFL winners in 2006, such as U.S. Rep. Tim Walz in southeastern Minnesota and U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar.
With Election Day more than 20 months away, Franken is the third DFLer to declare. Trial attorney Mike Ciresi, who ran for the Senate in 2000, and Dick Franson, a frequent candidate for high office, have also said they definitely intend to run. Many other Democrats have expressed at least some interest.