WASHINGTON – In what some are calling the first public acknowledgement that Al Franken may be more than a funnyman with quaint political aspirations, Republican Sen. Norm Coleman's campaign is calling out the former Saturday Night Live star over his seeming contradictions on Iraq.
Franken still has to win the Democratic primary to take on Coleman, but with recent polls showing him in contention against attorney Mike Ciresi, Coleman is preparing for a possible fight against a well-known opponent.
Coleman's camp has spliced together a buffet of Franken's many statements on the war in Iraq in an attempt to demonstrate that Franken — a satirist, radio host and now real contender to the seat once occupied by the late Paul Wellstone — has been all over the map when it comes to the war.
In one clip of an apparent panel discussion in October, for example, Franken is shown saying, "We have to start a withdrawal I believe, and have a timeline." This clip is followed by a recording of Franken in June saying what seems to be the opposite.
"I'm not sure we should set a timetable myself," he says. "I may actually, oddly enough, agree with Bush here."
Franken, 56, has parlayed a successful career as a comedian, author and Harvard lecturer into a hard-charging political campaign that has garnered recent attention for his successful showing in the polls. He left Air America Radio as one of its anchors early in 2007 to run for the Senate seat held by first-termer Coleman, and has been an outspoken critic of the Bush administration and a liberal voice within Minnesota's Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party.
The 93-second video, which went up on the Coleman campaign Web site and YouTube on Monday, has been followed by at least one press release by the Coleman campaign chiding Franken.
"Al Franken claims he feels so strongly about his position on the Iraq war that he decided to challenge Norm Coleman for the United States Senate. He has traveled across Minnesota to college campuses and DFL gatherings, telling Minnesotans how strongly he feels about the war," said Coleman Campaign Manager Cullen Sheehan. "But now, when confronted with his conflicting views on where he really stands on the war, about withdrawing from Iraq, and his belief that the president should cut off funding for the troops, Al Franken is silent."
But Franken's campaign isn’t silent about Coleman or the new video. Immediately after the recording hit the Internet, Franken spokesman Andy Barr accused Coleman of engaging in "fundamental dishonesty," and suggested his campaign sliced and diced Franken's comments to achieve its goal of discrediting him.
"Fundamental dishonesty like we are seeing from Coleman's campaign today was a bad way to get us into this war, and it's certainly not going to get us out," said Barr. "It won't stop Al from speaking out against this war and holding Norm Coleman accountable, and it won't stop Minnesotans from voting for a new direction."
Democrats say the Coleman campaign is publicly starting to sweat over his re-election next fall.
"(Coleman) is one of the most vulnerable incumbents in the country — he knows that. That's why he started attacking Democrats a year before the election," said Matt Miller, spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. Miller said the senator is trying to shift the focus off of his own Iraq record as Minnesotans, like much of America, continue to disapprove of the current situation overseas.
"He knows it's his biggest weakness," said Miller. "He has tried to make his position fuzzy for some time now, but the voters of the state know where he's been, he's given the president a rubber stamp for some time and they're not going to be fooled."
Coleman's camp said it is Franken who is trying to fool voters, by not being clear about his position on the war — and that is why they have called him on the carpet.
"Minnesotans deserve an honest answer about which position on the war Al Franken currently holds," the Coleman campaign said in an e-mail to FOXNews.com Wednesday. "Until (Franken) does, our campaign — as well as those of his DFL opponents — are going to continue to make sure the people of Minnesota know what positions he has taken in the past on the war in Iraq."
In the meantime, Franken has to get through the Democratic nomination process, which will culminate in the state convention next spring. Franken is one of two top contenders for that privilege, and the competition is fierce, according to recent polling.
As for hypothetical match-ups with Coleman, a Rasmussen poll of likely Minnesota voters last month showed Coleman ahead of Franken in a head-to-head race 49 percent to 42 percent. He had a double-digit lead over Franken last March.
Ciresi fares slightly better against Coleman, who bests him 46 percent to 43 percent in a direct match-up. For favorability, voters give Coleman 56 percent, compared to 42 percent for Franken and 43 percent for Ciresi, according to Rasmussen.
But Franken is so far keeping up with Coleman in the fundraising race, and this week, he won a coveted endorsement from 43,000 members of Minnesota's American Federation of State, County and Municipal Workers Council 5, giving rise to more news reports that Franken is more than a guy with a funny shtick.