- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 12, 2008

A lifetime of blue jokes and biting satire have proved a heavy load for Democrat Al Franken to carry in his U.S. Senate run, giving opponents an arsenal of potshots and even spurring a last-minute primary challenger who says the “Saturday Night Live” veteran is just too vulgar for Minnesotans.

Priscilla Lord Faris, whose family is steeped in Minnesota Democratic politics, burst into the race with a TV ad slamming Mr. Franken’s “record of pornography, degradation of women and minorities and questionable financial transactions.”

In the ad - which features Mrs. Lord Faris, a personal-injury lawyer, delivering a somber monologue reminiscent of TV commercials for her trade - the challenger makes the case that Mr. Franken’s comedy has rendered him unelectable because it “will be the source of blistering ads from the Republican attack machine.”

“I represent Minnesota values as a teacher, volunteer and advocate,” she said in the ad, alluding to her past work as a third-grade teacher and as a lobbyist for Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

Republicans see Mrs. Lord Faris as a harbinger of the funnyman’s downfall and a sign that their relentless criticism of Mr. Franken is paying dividends in the electorate.

“I think she is tapping into a very dissatisfied faction of the Democratic Party,” said Gina Countryman, spokeswoman for the Minnesota Republican Party. “I think they recognize that [Mr. Franken’s] kind of work and his experience just doesn’t strike the tone of a man who will get things done in the U.S. Senate.”

Republicans have pummeled Mr. Franken for joking about religion, child abuse, rape and sexual exploits, including:

  • A Playboy magazine article he wrote in 2000 titled “Porn-O-Rama” about a fictional sex institution where he has sexual encounters with various women and machines.
  • A 2000 performance at the Friars Club in New York during which he joked about comedy writer Carl Reiner physically and sexually abusing his son, director Rob Reiner, as a child.
  • Statements on his “Air America” talk-radio show that the Catholic Church is “idiotic” because of its opposition to research on human embryos.
  • Reports in New York Magazine that Mr. Franken suggested a skit for the 1994-95 season of “Saturday Night Live” in which CBS “60 Minutes” commentator Andy Rooney drugs and rapes news reporter Lesley Stahl.
  • Mr. Franken, 57, also was dogged for months about his personal finances and then announced in April that he owed about $70,000 in unpaid taxes to several states. He blamed bad accounting and said he overpaid taxes by that much in Minnesota and New York, but critics smelled a coverup and dubbed him a “scofflaw” and “tax deadbeat.”

    The Franken campaign said jokes and satire are not intended to be taken seriously and Republicans are manipulating Mr. Franken’s comedy in an effort to distract voters from real issues, such as high gas prices and the Iraq war.

    But the litany of bad press, Mrs. Lord Faris said, put Democrats in jeopardy of losing to Republican Sen. Norm Coleman, who is considered one of the most vulnerable incumbents in the 2008 elections.

    Mr. Coleman enjoyed a 15-point advantage over Mr. Franken - 53 percent to 38 percent - in a recent Quinnipiac/Wall Street Journal/ Washington Post poll.

    Mr. Coleman won the seat in 2002 after two-term incumbent Democrat Sen. Paul Wellstone died in a plane crash 11 days before the election and former presidential nominee Walter Mondale entered as a last-minute replacement candidate.

    In 2006, Minnesotans elected Democrat Amy Klobuchar to the U.S. Senate by a 20-point margin over Republican Rep. Mark Kennedy, signaling to Democrats that Mr. Coleman was ripe to pick off this year.

    “I have no ill will toward [Mr. Franken]” Mrs. Lord Faris, 66, daughter of longtime Democratic politician and federal District Judge Miles Lord, told The Washington Times.

    “But look, he is way behind in the polls, and every day something comes out about his comedy talk,” she said. “He made fun of child abuse, he made fun of Catholics, and he made fun of rape. That’s not what I’m saying. That’s Republican press conferences. He has a right to say whatever he wants in his comedy, but he has to know that everything he says is going to be used against him.”

    The Franken campaign is ignoring the late entry in the race.

    “The party is completely unified behind Al,” Franken campaign spokesman Andy Barr said. “We are really not concerned about anything but Norm Coleman’s record and how we can change Washington.”

    State Democratic Party officials also dismissed Mrs. Lord Faris as a “really minor challenge” to Mr. Franken, who won the party’s endorsement at the state convention in June.

    They said she was late to the race, has limited name recognition, does not have a campaign organization and lacks money to compete.

    “She is one person who paid a few hundred bucks to put her name on the ballot, but 1,400 state delegates to the convention endorsed Al Franken on the first ballot,” said John Stiles, spokesman for the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, the state’s Democratic Party.

    Mrs. Lord Faris said she is in it to win - spending $100,000 so far on TV ads, launching a Web site and recruiting at least 70 volunteers.

    “I’m a Paul Wellstone in a skirt,” she said. “I’m tenacious, and I can work harder than anyone I know. … I’m bringing in money every day.”

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