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Franken remarks it is his goal to make every kid 'the luckiest kid in the world'

WILLMAR -- When he was growing up in St. Louis Park, Al Franken felt like "the luckiest kid in the world."

It was a modest, middle-class upbringing, he said, but his family was happy, and he felt lucky.

"I just want every kid in America to be the luckiest kid in the world," he said Tuesday during a campaign stop in Willmar.

Franken is campaigning for the DFL nomination to run for the U.S. Senate against Republican Sen. Norm Coleman in 2008. Running for office is something new for Franken, a well-known comedian, satirist and writer, who wrote and performed on "Saturday Night Live" for years.

Franken's list of programs needed to make every kid the luckiest kid is a tall order.

He'd start young, with early childhood education and health care.

Kids who are read to when they are young have a much broader vocabulary. Kids without health insurance miss more school and they are 70 percent less likely to be treated for ear infections -- "That's wrong and stupid," Franken said.

"If we're going to close these achievement gaps, we've got to start early," he said.

Also on his list is making sure children have enough to eat and investing in training teachers.

Next is a rural development plan that would allow young people to find good jobs in their home areas and bring rural broadband Internet access.

Franken's distaste for the war in Iraq was also part of his vision. The country needs a foreign policy that doesn't involve spending billions each month in Iraq, he said.

Franken said he believes that rural America has paid a disproportionate price in the war. He has made four USO trips to Iraq and eats his meals in the mess halls with the troops. Many of the people he meets are from rural areas, he said.

He recalled that he was at a Kandiyohi County DFL function last spring on the weekend the community learned a soldier from Willmar had died in Iraq.

Franken expects that the country will have a Democratic president and a stronger Democratic majority in Congress after the 2008 election, something that would help him move those programs for children and young adults forward if he's elected.

Minnesota's race is likely to be watched closely, seen as "a huge opportunity" for Democrats, he said.

Franken said he believes Coleman is vulnerable, in part because of the war and his changing views on it. He said he believes Coleman also has "an authenticity problem."

As he's traveled around Minnesota campaigning, he's found "a warm, embracing welcome," Franken said.

"It's really about people and letting people know you take their problems seriously," he said. "I think most people understand that."

But, he added, "I still am me."

"The role of a satirist is to look at a situation, see the hypocrisy, inconsistencies and absurdities," he said. "Actually, there's a set of skills you get from being a satirist that will be very useful in the Senate."

Franken's campaign bank account currently has nearly $2 million in it, and most of it was raised from 37,000 individual donors, giving an average of $65, he said.

Donors of $200 or larger are listed on a Federal Election Commission report that includes names like Paul Newman, Tom Hanks, Leonard Nimoy and Linda Ronstadt. It also includes former Minnesota Attorney General Warren Spannaus.

But many of his donations have come from house parties and other smaller fund-raisers in Minnesota, he said.

Franken acknowledged the "big comedy" has given a lot of money to his campaign, but he compared it to Coleman's large contributions from pharmaceutical, oil and insurance interests.

"The thing is, big comedy doesn't want anything from me," he said.

To those who might question the sincerity of a comedian turned candidate, he said, "There's nothing better than making people laugh, unless maybe it's making their lives better."