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Comedian Becomes Serious Contender


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MANKATO, Minn. -- Al Franken settled into the Wagon Wheel Cafe and for 45 uninterrupted minutes talked with a handful of Minnesota farmers about the promise of cellulosic ethanol, the impact of the sinking dollar on crop prices and his pledge to secure a seat on the Agriculture Committee if he is elected to the U.S. Senate.

Then the Democrat worked the diner crowd, shaking hands and asking for support like a seasoned statesman, betraying no hint that he was once a longtime writer and actor on "Saturday Night Live" and a sharp-tongued liberal talk-radio host.

Nevertheless, after Franken left, Jodi Dickey dismissed his candidacy, saying it was "like Tina Fey running for office." But then the undecided voter thought a bit more about the state of the country and reconsidered. "Actually, maybe that's not such a bad idea."

The political climate this year is such that Franken -- best known for starring in an "SNL" skit in which his character stares into a mirror and attempts to reassure himself that, doggone it, people like him -- has pulled ahead in his Senate race against Republican Sen. Norm Coleman.

Just weeks ago, Coleman appeared to be headed for victory, one of a handful of Republicans expected to win in a tough year for the GOP. But then a bad economy turned grim, the public's faith in Congress cratered, and support for Franken started to grow. The latest poll, a University of Wisconsin survey that came out Thursday, showed Franken ahead of Coleman 40 percent to 34 percent, his biggest lead of the race. Independent Dean Barkley was favored by 15 percent of those surveyed.

As the race has tightened, its importance nationally has increased greatly. Leaders of both parties see the contest as one of a critical few that will determine whether Democrats win a filibuster-proof 60 seats in the Senate, so both parties are directing high-profile supporters and millions of dollars to Minnesota.

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Stuart saves his family?

I like Franken and hope he wins.

was there more then one? :laugh:

he does seem like an intelligent man though and I made those comments out of satire. I dont know his views but if he was a clown he would have been exposed (hopefully) a long time ago.

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Yep, he'll fit right in with the incompetent & corrupt crowd in Washington.

Editorial: Franken's tax woes undercut campaign

If tax questions linger, real issues will get shunted aside.

Last update: April 30, 2008 - 6:21 PM

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"I think Minnesotans are fair-minded and I think when they look at this ... they'll say, 'Oh, I see, the Frankens paid state and federal taxes on all their income and they tried to comply."

Al Franken


"Paying taxes is an obligation that I think Minnesotans expect to be adhered to, and that Minnesotans do."

Sen. Norm Coleman

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Al Franken did Tuesday what campaign playbooks recommend when there's damaging news to be told. The U.S. Senate candidate himself broke the story that he owed at least 17 states some $70,000 in taxes, interest and penalties. He said he overpaid taxes by a similar amount in Minnesota and New York between 2003 and 2007.

The news didn't come as a total surprise -- which suggests that DFLer Franken looked rather late to the playbooks for guidance. For more than a month, he'd been dealing with GOP reports of irregularities in his business finances. It was past time to get in front of that story and attempt to wrestle it into oblivion. Whether Franken's disclosure will have that effect is not at all clear.

The revelation was not the confession of a tax cheat -- GOP spinners' best attempts to suggest otherwise notwithstanding. People trying to avoid paying taxes don't do so by paying them to the wrong state. No evidence of tax evasion has surfaced.

Nevertheless, the errors to which Franken owned up are damaging, and in a way that matters to more than just DFLers. They raise questions about competence, and about the kind of campaign Minnesotans can expect if Franken is the DFL candidate for the seat occupied by Republican Sen. Norm Coleman.

Doubts have now been planted about the former entertainer's ability to manage his own business, or to hire appropriate accounting help to do so. Voters are also left to wonder why the tax problems weren't spotted and corrected much earlier by a campaign that's been in operation for more than a year. A thorough internal inspection of a candidate's business affairs is considered routine in today's rough-and-tumble Senate contests, and this one promises to be one of the nation's hardest-fought.


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