Flashback: Franken Will Run in '08

Feb 14, 2007— -- First came Jesse "The Body" Ventura. Now it is Al Franken's turn.

Minnesotans, who elected former pro wrestler Ventura to serve as their governor in 1999, will have another unorthodox candidate asking for their vote.

Comedian and liberal talk-show host Al Franken announced Wednesday that he is running for the U.S. Senate, seeking to win the seat currently held by Republican Sen. Norm Coleman.

Franken hosted his final "Air America" radio show Wednesday, during which he announced his Senate campaign, and also unveiled a campaign Web site including an announcement video in which Franken admitted, "I'm not a typical politician," and acknowledged, "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."

Signing off his radio broadcast, Franken added, "I think I can do more, and so I'm going to run for the United States Senate."

"I'm not a professional politician," he said. "I know I'm going to make some mistakes and this is going to be the hardest thing I've ever done, but I'm going to work hard."

The comedian turned activist concluded, "I know I have an awful lot to learn from the people in Minnesota. Fixing this country is going to take a lot of work from all of us."

Franken hopes that Minnesotans are ready to entrust that job to a political outsider for the second time in the past decade.

But where Ventura was better known for body slams and head locks before taking the helm of state government in a tumultuous independent term, Franken has long been a figure in the political world.

Franken, a former "Saturday Night Live" writer and performer, has been the signature voice of the liberal Air America radio network since its inception in 2004 and formed the Midwest Values Political Action Committee, of which Andy Barr is the political director.

Amid rampant speculation in recent weeks that Franken would run, Barr admitted that Franken has been planning this move for some time.

"He's been talking to everyone you can imagine, talking to people about their experiences, seeking advice from folks who have gone through the process," said Barr.

Franken is not the only candidate already jumping in the race for one of the two Senate seats in the land of 10,000 lakes.

On Feb. 11, Minnesota Democrat and wealthy trial lawyer Mike Ciresi announced he is forming an exploratory committee for a second Senate bid. Ciresi won 22 percent of the primary vote against eventual general election winner and now former Sen. Mark Dayton.

Seizing on the pre-announcement rumors that Franken might run, Republicans have already attempted to tear down his campaign before it can get off the ground.

Ron Carey, chairman of the Minnesota Republican Party, recently issued a statement expressing confidence that the state "will reject Franken's divisive, scorched earth attacks," going on to declare, "Al Franken fundamentally lacks the leadership qualities Minnesotans are looking for."

The National Republican Senatorial Committee also released a collection of quotes that the comedian would probably rather forget, including a comment made to Time magazine in 2003 in which Franken stated he was not tempted to run for office, reasoning, "First of all, if I took one vote away from a serious candidate, it would be a sin."

Larry Jacobs, director of the Center for the Study of Policy and Governance at the Humphrey Institute at the University of Minnesota, acknowledges that Republicans want to damage Franken's credibility early in the electoral process.

"The Republicans don't want to take chances with him -- they want to finish him off now. If they can define Franken now the way that John Kerry was defined early in the presidential race, then that will be good for the Republicans. But they don't want to let Franken redefine himself. And that's what he'll try to do -- redefine himself."

Barr agreeds that it would be a challenge for Franken to get to the voters to take him seriously, but he is confident that Franken is up to the task.

"That's one of the challenges -- he's got to show people that he's serious about serving the people of Minnesota," Barr told ABC News.

Barr, sounding like an aspiring campaign manager, went on to explain that "People are used to turning to him as a leader in the progressive community. He brings a fresh perspective to the problems the country faces. There's a hunger for something different."

But will voters -- even ones who have shown a penchant for outsiders in the past -- elect a former "Saturday Night Live" comedian?

"His main problem is his occupation. He's got to gain credibility," said Jacobs. "The fact that he's a comedian might hurt him. This is not a comic period in American history. So whether or not he can build that bond of trust with the people, that's a real question."

With every political candidate whose background is in comedy or wrestling or acting, the advantages of being a known quantity with voters also brings with it some disadvantages too.

"He has 100 percent name recognition -- that's a great advantage," Jacobs said. "But his background is a big disadvantage -- the 'take-me-seriously' issue is hard, because people are trained to think of him as a comedian. And he's been outlandish."

Barr is confident that Franken has already overcome this problem with his years as a talk-show host and political writer.

"People are used to turning to him as a leader in the progressive community. That's an advantage," said Barr.

But many see an uphill battle in the much-sought-after role as a challenger to Coleman, who is widely seen as vulnerable to a strong opponent.

"He's got a reasonable chance to win the Democratic endorsement but he might not win the primary -- that's uncertain," Jacobs said. "In Minnesota they take policy-making very seriously. You can't win if you're seen as not being serious about policy issues."