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Minn. Democrats Pick Al Franken For Senate

In this June 7, 2008 file photo, Al Franken addresses delegates at the party's state convention in Rochester, Minn.
AP Photo/Jim Mone
Comedian Al Franken grabbed the Democratic nomination Tuesday for U.S. Senate in Minnesota, setting up a showdown with Republican Sen. Norm Coleman that had been years in the making.

Franken, who gained fame as a "Saturday Night Live" cast member, easily beat six other candidates chasing the Democratic nod. Coleman trounced his only opponent, an expatriate living in Italy.

They'll share the ballot with Dean Barkley of the Independence Party, which has factored into the outcome of some statewide races in recent elections. Barkley, who topped six primary opponents, was briefly in the Senate in 2002 when he was appointed by then-Gov. Jesse Ventura to complete the late Paul Wellstone's term.

Franken began his bid 19 months ago, but had been building toward a run long before that. He already has sunk millions of dollars into the race. So has Coleman. And the campaign was bareknuckled from the start.

"Norm Coleman has become Washington," Franken said. "He plays a little game. He takes checks for hundreds of thousands from the pharmaceutical companies and the insurance companies and the oil companies and he's received more money from those industries than any politician in the history of Minnesota politics.

"He's the Washington guy and I'm going to be fighting for Minnesotans," Franken added.

Coleman sought to make the race about experience - his time in public office versus Franken's lack of service in elective office.

"Minnesotans have a clear choice on experience," Coleman said. "Minnesotans have a clear choice in terms of record of working with others."

Franken's celebrity both helped and hurt him in the leadup to Tuesday. His coast-to-coast recognition enabled him to amass an impressive bankroll for a first-time candidate, but archives full of racy material provided ammunition to Republicans and his most visible Democratic rival, attorney Priscilla Lord Faris.

Lord Faris, part of a well-regarded family in state Democratic politics, criticized Franken for "angry and offensive public behavior" and said he'd be too easy a target for Coleman and his allies.

She jumped into the race on the last day of filing in July, but still managed to take some glow off Franken's victory. With two-thirds of precincts reporting, he had 66 percent of the vote to Lord Faris' 29 percent.

Franken had the party brass behind him after winning the Democratic endorsement in June. Despite attracting six Democratic opponents, Franken put his whole focus on Coleman.

Brian Davis secured the Republican nomination in southern Minnesota to go up against Rep. Tim Walz, who rode a Democratic tidal wave into Congress in 2006. Davis, a physician, had the GOP endorsement and came out ahead of state Sen. Dick Day.

Much of the election action involved seats in the Minnesota Legislature. Twenty-seven primaries were needed to whittle down the fields for state House seats and there was one state Senate vacancy that needed sorting out. The highlights:

  • In Anoka, six-term Rep. Jim Abeler beat back a fellow Republican, Don Huizenga, who went after Abeler for supporting a transportation bill with several tax increases, which was enacted over Gov. Tim Pawlenty's veto.
  • In Bloomington, the transportation veto override doomed Republican Rep. Neil Peterson, who supported the bill. Consultant Jan Schneider defeated him.
  • In Minneapolis, first-term Rep. Augustine "Willie" Dominguez lost to Democratic challenger Bobbie Joe Champion, whose candidacy was embraced by some big names in local politics.
  • Duluth City Council President Roger Reinert topped four other Democrats in the hunt for a seat being vacated by 16-term Rep. Mike Jaros. His ticket was all but punched for St. Paul, judging by the easy victories Jaros routinely had in the DFL stronghold.
  • State Rep. Mark Olson, hamstrung by a 2007 domestic assault conviction, failed in his attempt to gain the GOP nomination for a vacant state Senate seat. He couldn't convert on his party's endorsement after many top Republicans rallied behind his opponent, Alison Krueger. Incumbent Sen. Betsy Wergin of Princeton gave up the seat to accept a position on the Public Utilities Commission.