MINNEAPOLIS - Comedian, author and liberal talk-show host Al Franken declared his candidacy Wednesday for the Minnesota U.S. Senate seat held by Republican Norm Coleman, ensuring that the 2008 race will be more entertaining than usual and more closely followed by the national media.
Franken at the opening of his statement confronted the central question he will face in the early going - whether a life-long comic should be taken seriously.
"Minnesotans have a right to be skeptical about whether I'm ready for this challenge and to wonder how seriously I would take the responsibility that I'm asking you to give me," Franken said in a video message on a campaign Web site launched Wednesday afternoon.
"I want you to know: Nothing means more to me than making government work better for the working families of this state," Franken said. "And over the next 20 months I look forward to proving to you that I take these issues seriously."
Offering personal stories about his childhood in Minnesota and about how his father and other family members were able to survive and thrive with the help of federal education and Social Security programs, Franken said "your government should have your back. That should be our mission in Washington, the one FDR (President Franklin D. Roosevelt) gave us during another challenging time: freedom from fear."
Republican Party officials and conservative bloggers have been issuing pre-emptive attacks on Franken for weeks, focusing on some of his more outrageous skits and statements, and his role in recent years as a scathing critic of President Bush and other conservatives.
"Given his blind partisanship and extreme anger, Al Franken is the last person Minnesotans need in the United States Senate," Republican Party Chairman Ron Carey said in a statement before the announcement. "While Sen. Norm Coleman continues to work with all sides for the betterment of our state and nation, Franken offers Minnesotans nothing but polarization and vitriolic personal attacks."
Franken talked about his candidacy on the last half-hour of his last show on Air America, a progressive talk-radio network he helped found almost three years ago, and which recently was sold after it went bankrupt.
With Election Day more than 20 months away, Franken is the third Democrat to declare. Trial attorney Mike Ciresi, who ran in 2008, and Dick Franson, a frequent candidate for high office who has not won an election since serving on the Minneapolis City Council in the 1960s, have also said they intend to run. Many other Democrats have expressed at least some interest.