ST. PAUL, Minn. – Comedian Al Franken grabbed the Democratic nomination Tuesday for U.S. Senate in Minnesota, setting up a showdown with Republican Sen. Norm Coleman that had been years in the making.
Franken, who gained fame as a "Saturday Night Live" cast member, easily beat six other candidates chasing the Democratic nod. Coleman trounced his only opponent, an expatriate living in Italy.
Minnesota voters joined those in six other states and the District of Columbia in deciding general election matchups. Nominations for House, Senate and governor were on the line, along with the fate of another TV celebrity: Kevin Powell, a former cast member on MTV's "Real World," who lost his bid for Congress in New York.
Franken's celebrity has both helped and hurt him. His coast-to-coast recognition enabled him to amass an impressive bankroll for a first-time candidate, but archives full of racy material provided ammunition to Republicans and his most visible Democratic rival, attorney Priscilla Lord Faris.
Lord Faris, part of a well-regarded family in state Democratic politics, criticized Franken for "angry and offensive public behavior" and said he'd be too easy a target for Coleman and his allies.
With 18 percent of precincts reporting, Franken had 70 percent of the vote to Lord Faris' 27 percent.
Also factoring into the Senate race, Dean Barkley won a spot on the ballot for the Independence Party, which is a major party in Minnesota.
Some other key states primary contests include:
— New York: In Brooklyn, longtime Rep. Edolphus Towns fended off a spirited challenge from Powell, a community activist who appeared on the first installment of the MTV reality show "Real World."
Voters on Staten Island also chose candidates to replace Rep. Vito Fossella, who stepped aside after a drunken driving arrest led to revelations that he'd fathered a child with a woman who was not his wife. City Councilman Michael McMahon won the Democratic primary, while former state assemblyman Bob Straniere prevailed on the Republican side.
— New Hampshire: In a closely watched Senate race, Republican Sen. John Sununu and former Democratic Gov. Jeanne Shaheen easily won their primaries and resumed focus on their hard-fought rematch of 2002. Popular Democratic Gov. John Lynch easily defeated a retired teacher to seek a third two-year term.
New Hampshire's two House seats, now held by Democrats, are also in play.
— Vermont: Rep. Peter Welch, the state's only House member, won the Democratic primary. Welch has no Republican opposition but will face Progressive and Liberty Union candidates in November.
— Delaware: State treasurer Jack Markell won the most expensive gubernatorial primary in the state's history, beating Lt. Gov. John Carney. Markell, a Democrat, will face retired judge Bill Lee, who clinched the Republican primary.
— Wisconsin: Republican Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner — the state's only incumbent U.S. House member to face a primary challenge — easily secured his nomination.
— Rhode Island: Democrat Sen. Jack Reed beat a longshot challenger to seek a third term.
— District of Columbia: Former mayor Marion Barry easily held off four challengers seeking his city council seat in the Democratic primary. Barry is expected to win a second four-year term in November in the overwhelmingly Democratic city.