WASHINGTON – Liberal Al Franken is good enough and smart enough to win some of conservative Ben Stein's money — and doggone it, Stein likes him.
Stein, an actor, writer and economist, has contributed $2,000 to Franken's Minnesota Senate campaign. The two men have known each other for about 30 years.
"I'm struck by what an incredibly capable, hard-working guy he is," Stein told The Associated Press in a telephone interview Thursday. "He's a very smart liberal, he's a thoroughgoing patriot, and I would feel better with him in the Senate."
Franken is one of several Democratic candidates vying to take on Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn. As a former "Saturday Night Live" star, Franken has received scores of contributions from people in the entertainment industry, but the donation from Stein doesn't fit into the GOP's talking points about liberal Hollywood elites bankrolling Franken's campaign.
"Friendship trumps ideology — by the way, as it should," Coleman said. "Friendship, family, there are some things more important than ideology. Was he in 'Ferris Bueller'? I think it was a good movie. I don't get a lot of Ben Stein."
Yes, Stein played the teacher in "Ferris Bueller's Day Off," droning on, "Bueller? Bueller? Bueller?"
Stein, a former speechwriter for President Nixon, has contributed thousands of dollars to Republican candidates and to GOP committees, such as the National Republican Senatorial Committee — charged with helping Republicans take over the Senate. Doesn't the donation to Franken undercut those efforts?
"Well, it does to a very slight extent," Stein said. "There is some contradiction there. But not all senators are as good as Al Franken."
The two worked together during Comedy Central's coverage of the 1992 political conventions. They also did debates together in front of corporations and universities — "because we could be billed as Franken/Stein," Franken recalled. "To have fun, we used to always insist on being billed as Stein/Franken.
"We'd let them finally do it, but we'd put them through it. We'd say, 'It should be Stein/Franken because Ben is older. And that's the proper way to do it.' And they'd say, 'But, but, but we can do it as Franken/Stein.' And I'd go, 'Oh no, I understand why you'd want to do that, but we prefer Stein-Franken."'
Franken said the donation meant a lot to him.
"I think it's a sign of friendship and respect for my intellectual honesty and for my integrity — if I do say so myself," he said with a laugh.