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Campaign no joke for Franken

ST. PAUL - Al Franken was in the Mideast when he decided to run for Senate in the Midwest.

In late 2006, the comedian-satirist-writer-talk show host was on his fourth trip to visit U.S. soldiers in Iraq. Upset at the Bush administration and Republicans such as Sen. Norm Coleman, Franken said he had been considering running for office but had reservations because of the time commitment and personal and family sacrifices.

The Democrat made up his mind after witnessing troops on that visit.

"They're in danger, putting themselves at tremendous risk and away from home..." Franken recalled. "And I said, 'OK, I'll do it.'"

"I felt like I had to get involved directly in our political system and try to get things done to correct what had been going on the last six years," he added.

After returning to his home state from New York City, the former "Saturday Night Live" writer and cast member has spent nearly two years telling Minnesotans that he is ready to change Congress from the inside, not comment on it from the outside.

In the process, he traveled the state extensively, campaigning for Democratic candidates while building his own candidacy. He won over party activists despite high-profile criticisms for faulty tax filings and foul-mouthed jokes. And he has consistently called Coleman an ally of corporate interests, not his constituents.

Coleman's main argument against Franken is that he has no record of public service and has not reached out to those with whom he disagrees.

"We need to be measured not by what we say but by what we do," Coleman said.

On the campaign trail, Franken recounts his upbringing in a small suburban Minneapolis home, which made him feel like "the luckiest kid in the world." After a long career in comedy, political writing and liberal talk radio, he returned to Minnesota in 2005.

Franken has led Coleman in some independent polls. Yet voters remain skeptical of Franken, and his supporters admit ads against him have planted doubts.

At a recent rally on a St. Paul university campus, student Hadley Syverud said she knows of Democrats uncomfortable with Franken.

"A lot of people seem to not like Franken just based on what they've seen in TV commercials," Syverud said.

Franken said he has tried to assure Minnesotans he is "deadly serious about all of this" by focusing on issues, running advertisements, debating Coleman and "constantly working."

The comedian in him is restrained in the campaign, but Franken said he still values humor and believes it could be helpful in the Senate.

"A sense of humor can be used as a way to bring people together and it can also be used to cut through baloney and get to the truth," he said.

Al Franken

Party: Democratic

Age: 57

Home: Minneapolis

Occupation: Former comedian, liberal author and radio host

Political experience: Campaigned for Democrats; created fund-raising committee to advance progressive candidates and causes

Education: Harvard College

Family: Wife, Franni, and two grown children