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Al Franken announced Wednesday that he will run for the Senate in 2008, making it clear that the comedian and author of Rush Limbaugh Is a Big Fat Idiot wants to be taken seriously as a political figure.
Franken said he would seek the Democratic nomination to challenge Republican incumbent Norm Coleman and immediately acknowledged the doubts voters may have about electing a former Saturday Night Live performer.
''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 on his Web site.
''I want you to know: Nothing means more to me than making government work better for the working families of this state, and over the next 20 months, I look forward to proving to you that I take these issues seriously,'' he said.
Franken's announcement came on the final day of his show on the liberal radio network Air America. His decision instantly makes him a serious contender and brings national attention to the race.
Franken announced a few weeks ago that he would leave Air America and privately told prominent Democrats about his plans to seek office.
His name is well-known, and Franken is likely to be well-funded, but he's expected to be challenged by several other Democrats, including wealthy trial attorney Mike Ciresi.
His candidacy will test whether Minnesotans are in the mood for another celebrity-turned-politician, after the 1999-2003 governorship of former pro wrestler Jesse Ventura. Ventura's fame and occasionally outrageous behavior regularly brought national attention to the state but wore on the patience of many Minnesotans.
Stephen Hess, a professor of political science at George Washington University, said Franken's bid is serious. ''He's not doing this as some folks have done it to give them better gigs on the borsch circuit.''
Coleman is viewed as vulnerable because of a Democratic resurgence in Minnesota and President Bush's unpopularity. But his proven skills as a campaigner and fund-raiser make him a formidable opponent.
Minnesota Republican Party chairman Ron Carey issued a statement saying Franken offers ''nothing but polarization and vitriolic personal attacks.''
Franken, 55, was born in New York City but grew up in the Minneapolis suburb of St. Louis Park. He graduated from Harvard University in 1973, and in 1975 joined the writing staff of Saturday Night Live during its first season. He soon began appearing in sketches and remained a fixture on the show well into the 1990s.
In 1996, Franken took his career in a political direction when he wrote Rush Limbaugh Is a Big Fat Idiot and Other Observations, a broadside against the conservative radio host and other figures on the Right. He's since published several other books critical of Republicans.
In his latest book, The Truth (With Jokes), Franken criticized Coleman for his leadership of the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, saying Coleman had not held a single hearing on Iraq war corruption.
In 2005, Franken and his wife moved back to the Twin Cities, an action widely interpreted as laying the groundwork for a campaign. He planned to make his first public appearance as a candidate Thursday at a Minneapolis clinic. (AP)