November 5, 2008 / 5:30 PM / 10 years ago

Al Franken falls short in Senate bid

NEW YORK (Hollywood Reporter) - He may be good enough and smart enough — but does he have enough votes?

Al Franken speaks to supporters in St. Paul, Minnesota November 4, 2008. REUTERS/Eric Miller

Long after most races had been decided, the bid of a former “Saturday Night Live” comedian to join the United States Senate remained uncertain Wednesday.

Al Franken’s bid to unseat Republican incumbent Norm Coleman in Minnesota fell short by 571 votes, according to the completed unofficial tally. Coleman secured 42.03 percent of the vote, and Franken 42.01 percent.

Those numbers virtually assured a recount, which according to Minnesota law is triggered if the margin of victory is less than half of 1%, and so the result may not be known for days.

If Franken is able to pull out a victory, it would cap a remarkable transformation of a “Saturday Night Live” icon, famous for characters like the self-affirming Stuart Smalley, to one of the country’s most prominent lawmakers.

While actors and performers from Ronald Reagan to Arnold Schwarzanegger to Sonny Bono have made the transition from entertainment to politics, no comedian has made a leap from Hollywood to Capitol Hill.

“It’s a lot easier for anyone who isn’t a comedian, especially a successful one, because we can’t think of these people as anything other than funny,” said one Hollywood insider.

And while actors typically can avoid scrutiny from the media and their opponent, comedic personalities offer a glut of material for the opposition to pick over.

Franken’s opponent offered an example of how to do just that, pulling out a now-infamous set of jokes mentioning rape that Franken wrote for “SNL” in 1995 and turning it into a cornerstone of his campaign. (The comedian has since apologized for those jokes.)

Franken has been enmeshed in a brutal, highly expensive campaign — the priciest of any of the 35 senate races this year — that also saw a third-party candidate enter the race. Dean Barkley of the Independence Party pulled 15 percent.

If his loss is confirmed, he’s likely to return to his hyphenate entertainment career. Among his current projects is the feature comedy “Don’t Send Help,” a script Franken co-wrote about a nebbishy man stranded with a slew of beautiful women that’s been set up at Fox (though that project could move forward without him as well, insiders noted).

Other executives and producers have been lining up hoping to work with Franken, who has put his Hollywood career on hold the past 20 months as he ran his Senate campaign. The comedian continues to be represented by William Morris.

Reuters/Hollywood Reporter

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