Franken secures DFL's Senate endorsement
By Scott Wente
St. Paul Capitol Bureau
ROCHESTER, Minn. - Satirist-turned-candidate Al Franken convinced Democratic activists to look beyond controversies about his past Saturday as he locked up the party's U.S. Senate endorsement.
"I'm not a perfect person and I'm not going to pretend to have all the answers, but I'll tell the truth," Franken told raucous Democratic activists gathered in Rochester's Mayor Civic Center. "I will keep my spine and I will work for you."
Franken earned the nomination when fellow DFL challenger and college professor Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer withdrew following the first ballot, asking delegate to unanimously endorse Franken; they immediately complied.
Franken - author, former radio talk show host and "Saturday Night Live" writer -- earned the support of 61.8 percent of the delegates compared to Nelson-Pallmeyer's 35.3 percent. That exceeded the 60-percent threshold needed for endorsement.
With his party's backing, Franken immediately shifted focus to the general election challenge of ousting Sen. Norm Coleman. The Republican senator has sided with corporations over Minnesotans, Franken said.
"It's time we had a senator who took this job seriously," Franken said.
The endorsement contest got real serious for Franken in the weeks leading up to the DFL Party's state convention. He sought to keep his campaign on track amid mounting criticism over past writings about pornography and a rape joke that even angered fellow Democrats.
Before the endorsement Franken addressed that issue directly, apologizing to delegates for jokes that he said were "downright offensive."
"It kills me that things I said and wrote sent a message to some of my friends in this room and the people in this state that they can't count on me to be a champion for women and for all people of Minnesota, in this campaign and in the Senate," Franken told delegates. "I'm sorry for that, because that's not who I am."
Many delegates to the convention said they wanted to hear Franken address those issues directly as they considered who to endorse for the general election contest.
The Coleman camp said the material Franken produced as a writer and entertainer as well as his positions on issues proves he lacks judgment needed by a senator.
"In a day and age when we need less partisanship - not more - and where we need people who can work across party lines to get things done, Al Franken is simply more fuel on the partisan fire burning in Washington," Coleman campaign manager Cullen Sheehan said.
With Franken viewed as the party's front-runner, Republicans had spent the past several months highlighting the Democrat's past as evidence he is not cut out for the U.S. Senate.
Franken was found to have underpaid income taxes in 17 states, while overpaying in two. Criticism grew when Republicans dug up a 2000 Playboy article Franken wrote about pornography. Franken came into the convention Friday criticized by both Republicans and Democrats for a 1995 rape joke he proposed for a "Saturday Night Live" skit.
"I wrote a lot of jokes," Franken told delegates. "Some of them weren't funny. Some of them weren't appropriate. Some of them were downright offensive."
Franken said he decided to offer an apology after talking with friends, delegates and supporters increasingly worried about his candidacy. Speaking with reporters after the endorsement, Franken said he does not expect to issue any more apologies for his work in the months to come.
"I think the words speak for themselves and I'd like to move on," he said.
Franken still could face a primary election challenge, though he said he doubted that will occur. Trial attorney Mike Ciresi, who earlier this year dropped out of the Senate race, has not ruled out running in a Democratic primary.
Minnesota Republican Party leaders said all Democratic candidates will have to explain why they did not condemn Franken's past work.
"Neither the DFL Party or its candidates will remember this day fondly in November when Minnesotans reject their decision to endorse a man who finds humor in a subject as serious as rape," Minnesota GOP Chairman Ron Carey said.
Endorsing a Senate candidate was Democrats' main job at their state convention, which ends today.
With attention on Franken's troubles, Nelson-Pallmeyer said his network of supporters was growing. He fashioned his campaign similar to that of the late Sen. Paul Wellstone, another college professor who entered politics.
Nelson-Pallmeyer was plagued by different concerns from some delegates, including whether he could raise the money needed to compete in a contested Senate race. He said he had developed a statewide network of supporters.
"We know that politics is not defined by money, but by vision," he said.
Nelson-Pallmeyer said he will not run in primary against Franken.
"It's been an incredible honor to be part of this campaign," he said.
Both Franken and Nelson-Pallmeyer worked the convention floor Saturday morning, thanking supporters and trying to woo undecided delegates and those supporting their challenger. After the endorsement, they embraced, signaling to the 1,388 convention delegates they had united after a tough intra-party battle.
U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat, also embraced Franken after the endorsement. It was a contrast to Klobuchar's position on Friday, when she had not backed a candidate and said Franken needed to explain his controversial material to delegates.
"I'm honored, I'm humbled and I'm ready," Franken said of the campaign ahead.