DFL Senate candidate Al Franken said Wednesday that the middle class holds the key to economic recovery, not the wealthy at the top of the financial food chain.

Speaking at the Humphrey Institute candidate forum on the University of Minnesota, Franken said he supports efforts to create jobs for the middle class, with more small business loans, infrastructure construction, development of energy alternatives and an end to tax breaks for American companies shipping jobs overseas.

"I believe that the middle class is the engine of prosperity, and what drives our economy is when everyone has a good job, and makes a decent wage and we're building millions of homes," Franken said.

His speech was the second in a series that began two weeks ago with an address by Independence Party candidate Dean Barkley on the polarization of political parties. Sen. Norm Coleman, the Republican incumbent, will speak today at noon at the Humphrey Center.

Franken explained why he opposed the $700 billion rescue package enacted by Congress to address the economic downturn, which he called "an exclamation point on eight years of economic mismanagement."

He said the package, which he called a bailout, didn't provide for effective congressional oversight, failed to cancel golden parachutes for executives of discredited firms and will cost more than the Iraq War even though no one really knew how much funding was needed.

Coleman and Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., both voted for the package, as did presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain.

Among the questions from audience members and political scientist Lawrence Jacobs, Franken was asked what role humor plays in politics.

"Why do you ask me that?" said a deadpan Franken, a longtime comedian and satirist.

"Satire is about cutting through stuff and getting to the truth ... From [19th-century humorist] Josh Billings to Will Rogers and Jon Stewart, I think it plays a very important role," he said.

Kevin Duchschere • 612-673-4455