Al Franken's good enough. He's smart enough. And doggone it, people like him. But will they vote for him?
The erstwhile Stuart Smalley is planning to quit his popular radio show Feb. 14 and launch a bid for the U.S. Senate. Franken hopes to secure the 2008 Democratic nomination in his home state of Minnesota, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reports.
He confirmed the demise of The Al Franken Show on Air America Monday—the same day the troubled radio network announced it was being sold to prominent New York Democrat Stephen L. Green, a real estate developer and brother of former New York mayoral candidate Mark Green.
Franken could not be reached for comment, but a message on his radio show's Website indicated an official declaration about a potential Senate run is forthcoming.
While the 55-year-old Franken hasn't officially announced he's going to take on the incumbent, Republican Norm Coleman, the Emmy-winning former SNL star has apparently been working behind the scenes to shore up support. Franken has reportedly phoned two members of Minnesota's Democratic congressional delegation in Washington, D.C., and a member of the state legislature informing them of his intentions.
"From his voice to my ears, he's running," one House member, who did not wish to be identified until an official announcement was made, told the Star-Tribune.
The comic and bestselling author has talked about challenging Coleman ever since the conservative won his seat in a bitter election in 2002, after his opponent, then Democratic incumbent Senator Paul Wellstone, died in a plane crash just days before the vote. Franken, a longtime supporter of the liberal Wellstone, criticized Coleman, a former mayor of St. Paul, for carpetbagging, since he was born and raised in Brooklyn and didn't settle in Minnesota until he was an adult.
Franken was also born in New York City, but he was raised in St. Louis Park, a suburb of Minneapolis. He first expressed interest in the job in 2003, noting that should he decide to make a go of it, he would take up residence again in his home state.
Franken has honed his political chops in a series of bestselling books, including Rush Limbaugh Is a Big Fat Idiot and Other Observations and Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right, and then via his Air America show, which debuted in 2004 under the title The O'Franken Factor, in mock honor of longtime nemesis Bill O'Reilly.
The name was eventually changed to The Al Franken Show and became a left-leaning antidote to conservative-dominated talk radio and the most popular show on the money-bleeding radio network. The Sundance Channel even broadcast a one-hour version of Franken's radio show for two seasons.
Finally, in April 2005, Franken signaled he was serious about his political foray by moving his radio show to the Twin Cities. He also formed his Midwest Values Political Action Committee, which raised boatloads of cash for Minnesota Democrats, including more than $1 million last year (from donations by the likes of Norman Lear, Phil Donahue and Barbra Streisand). He also spoke out on his key issues: universal heath-care coverage, gun control, abortion rights and alternative energy.
With the entertainer's exit, his time slot on Air America will be filled by commentator Thomas Hartmann, who's currently syndicated on the network.
Responding to all the hoopla over a Franken candidacy, Minnesota Republican party chairman Ron Carey issued a statement blasting Franken for his supposed "anger and slash-and-burn partisanship."
"Given Senator Coleman's proven ability to get things done for our state and nation in a bipartisan way, I am confident Minnesotans will reject Franken's divisive, scorched earth attacks," Carey said.
But as Stuart Smalley might respond: "That's just stinkin' thinkin'!"