WASHINGTON – Comedian and liberal talk show host Al Franken (search) put the odds of a challenge against Sen. Norm Coleman (search), R-Minn., in 2008 at better than 50-50, and said he would make a decision by late next year.
"I've thought about it and discussed it with my family more," Franken told The Associated Press Saturday, before attending the annual White House Correspondents' Association (search) dinner here. The only holdout, he said, is his 19-year-old son Joe, who is worried he'll see less of his father.
Franken, over a bite at a Thai restaurant (he ordered tom yum goong soup with shrimp and seafood salad), also said he's happy with the direction of his new radio show, "The O'Franken Factor," despite unenthusiastic early reviews.
Franken, who first floated the idea of running for Senate last year, said he's spoken to state and party officials, political operatives, and a couple of senators, including Hillary Rodham Clinton (search), D-N.Y., about it.
"I asked Hillary, 'Can you give me some suggestions about running for Senate in a state you haven't lived for in a while, or in your case, ever?' " he recalled, laughing heartily.
"And she said, 'This will be a long conversation,' so we agreed to have a long conversation about it."
Franken, 52, was born in New York City and lives there now, but grew up in the suburbs of Minneapolis.
As an adult, he was friends with the late Sen. Paul Wellstone (search), a Minnesota Democrat who died in a plane crash a week and a half before the 2002 election. Coleman, who had been in a nasty campaign with Wellstone, went on to defeat former Vice President Walter Mondale who replaced Wellstone on the ticket.
Although he's not a candidate yet, Franken is already taking shots at Coleman, calling him a "shill" for the Bush administration.
Coleman declined to comment, but the chairman of the Minnesota Republican Party, Ron Eibensteiner, said, "This is a joke, right?"
"Minnesota experimented with one Ventura-type of candidate," Eibensteiner said, referring to professional-wrestler-turned-governor Jesse Ventura (search). "I would be extremely surprised if Minnesota experimented with another one. It just didn't work the first time."
Franken said he would probably not take political action committee money but would also not put in any of his own money into a race.
"Absolutely not," he said, laughing. "If the staff went out for beers, I'd pick it up. But you're paying for this, right? Am I right? I'm right, right?"
His cell phone rang.
"Hi, Norm," Franken said. No, not that Norm. It was Norm Ornstein, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute (search) (and native Minnesotan), who Franken plans to book on his show.
He also fielded a call from Rich Lowry, editor of the National Review, who Franken writes a small chapter about in his book, "Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right."
In the book, Franken recounts calling Lowry and challenging him to a fight after Lowry had said that Democrats had "feminized" politics. Lowry declined and the two met for lunch instead, and now Lowry was calling to meet up with Franken that night.
"It's a very odd relationship," Franken said after inviting Lowry on to his show. "We sort of are friends."
Some critics say that Franken's show, and the liberal network on which it appears, Air America Radio (search), lack the punch of conservative radio marked by Rush Limbaugh.
"I have to do a show that reflects me," Franken said, in an earnest tone reminiscent of his Saturday Night Live character Stuart Smalley, who would constantly remind himself, "I'm good enough, I'm smart enough, and, doggone it, people like me."
"My feeling is a lot of the reviews reflect the preconceptions of what you have to do to counter Rush Limbaugh (search)," Franken added. "I am not going to bloviate for three hours."
One month into the show, Franken said he's pleased with how it's going.
"I feel like the show's growing every day, and the show in a year will be different than the show was the first day," he said. "But I feel like we're totally on the right track."
But Franken did acknowledge that it was harder being funny in this format.
"It's certainly difficult to be funny for three hours, because you talk about very serious things," he said. "I'd like to loosen it up a little bit, and try to write a little bit more comedy for it, maybe make it a little less guest-heavy."
Despite Franken's relentless attacks on the Bush administration, he actually got a little plug from the president at Saturday night's dinner.
"It really gets me when the critics say I haven't done enough for the economy. I mean, look what I've done for the book publishing industry," Bush said, citing Franken's book and two others critical of him.