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Franken returns to his roots

Al Franken, watched by his wife Franni, talks to several hundred supporters Wednesday on the Minnesota Capitol mall. They were celebrating a Tuesday Supreme Court decision that made him U.S. senator. Don Davis/Minn. State Capitol Bureau

ST. PAUL - "Live, from Washington, it's Sen. Al Franken!"

That may not be Minnesota senator-elect's line, but on Wednesday hundreds of supporters got a glimpse of a looser Al Franken than has surfaced in quite some time, more akin to how he appeared in front of the entertainment camera than the campaign camera.

He thanked Minnesotans for putting him in the U.S. Senate, promising, "I'm not going to waste that chance."

The party on the state Capitol's front lawn came 23 hours after the Minnesota Supreme Court released a ruling declaring Democrat Franken beat Republican Norm Coleman by 312 votes in Nov. 4's U.S. Senate election. Franken is to take the oath of office next week.

After 2.9 million Minnesotans voted, it took a recount and a Coleman court challenge to determine the winner.

Franken enlisted applause from the crowd when he praised Coleman's statesmanship on Tuesday by conceding the election.

"We wish him and his family the best," Franken said to cheers, quite a contrast from the reaction the name "Coleman" received at Franken campaign rallies last year.

Freed from the stress of an eight-month election recount and court challenge, the 58-year-old former "Saturday Night Live" star and writer cracked jokes and launched into a crowd in front of the Minnesota Capitol.

"I would like to take all of you to Washington," he told the crowd. "I can't. I costed it out."

He also was sentimental, especially when it came to his wife, Franni. Tears came to his eyes when he thanked her for her help, then recalled that the two met nearly 40 years ago at a college freshman mixer. "We have been together ever since."

Franken told the victory rally that without his wife, "I would have lost, by kind of a lot."

She was introduced to the chants of "Franni, Franni." She simply responded: "We have to keep meeting like this."

While state Republican Chairman Tony Sutton, in his first day on the job, criticized Franken for holding a partisan rally instead of an inclusive one in light of his tight victory, the Democrat-heavy rally was enthusiastic.

Amy Klobuchar, Minnesota's only senator since Coleman's term ended in early January, fired up the rally by saying, "This is the day we move forward."

Ironically, 13 months ago Klobuchar was not behind Franken the day before the state's Democrats endorsed him in Rochester. She and other Democratic-Farmer-Laborite women were not happy with his writing that some described as pornographic and degrading to women. After the endorsement, Klobuchar campaigned for Franken.

State Sen. Ann Lynch, DFL-Rochester, said on Wednesday that she always has supported Franken and dismissed claims that his writing hurt women. If she felt that, she said, "I would be at the front of the line screaming."

Rural Minnesotans should do well by Franken, despite his lack of rural roots, said Doug Peterson, Minnesota Farmers Union president and former state lawmaker.

"He is fairly progressive for prices to farmers," Peterson said, and prices are what matters.

Peterson said he expects Franken to take the advice of Klobuchar, who sits on the Senate Agriculture Committee, and U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, chairman of the House Agriculture Committee.

Sen. LeRoy Stumpf, DFL-Plummer, said sugar beet farmers and others in northwestern Minnesota like Franken. "he sure went over well before the election."

Like others rallying, Peterson was most happy that Minnesota can move on after a trying election process.

"I'm real that that we have a senator now," said Doug Peterson, who is considering running for governor. "We can get on with doing the business we have to get done."

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.