Time for a real comedian in the Senate?


McClatchy Newspapers

Comedian and radio talk show host Al Franken has begun calling Democratic members of Congress and prominent Minnesota Democrats to tell them he will definitely challenge Republican Sen. Norm Coleman in 2008, McClatchy Newspapers has learned.

On Monday, Franken announced that he was 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 in recent days, telling his political friends he’s ready to declare his candidacy. McClatchy Newspapers confirmed Wednesday that Franken made calls to at least two members of the Minnesota congressional delegation in Washington to break the news. The sources spoke on the condition of anonymity, not wanting to pre-empt 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.

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 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, Minn., 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 McKaskill of Missouri and Minnesota Rep. Tim Walz, and he gave smaller amounts to dozens of other national and state candidates.

Coleman 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 included Barbra Streisand, Phil Donahue, Larry Hagman and Norman Lear from the entertainment industry.

That list of contributors prompted Coleman to say that Franken “obviously has a sense of humor” by calling his PAC Midwest Values.

“Hollywood values aren’t Midwest,” Coleman said, “and the money isn’t Midwest.”

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.