There was little doubt Saturday as autograph seekers swarmed comedian Al Franken that, doggone it, people like him — especially Minnesota Democrats.
Franken, best known as the self-appreciating Stuart Smalley on Saturday Night Live, cracked jokes about Republicans and the anticipated presidential campaign of Minnesota Sen. Paul Wellstone at an annual fund-raising dinner for the Democratic Farmer-Labor Party.
About a dozen College Democrats attended the dinner, most of whom helped out behind the scenes. They assembled centerpieces, lit candles and took tickets before the event in exchange for an evening of rubbing elbows with the politically affluent and the chance to hear Franken, a Minnesota native and ardent Democrat.
“I’m just having a fun time meeting some of the higher ups in politics,” said Adam Tillotson, a General College freshman and College Democrat chairman.
Along with Wellstone, College Democrats hobnobbed with former Vice President Walter Mondale. Six Minnesota congressmen and all but one of the Democratic gubernatorial candidates also attended the dinner. Mark Dayton was the only no-show.
At the $125-a-plate dinner, about 1,000 Democrats in formal dresses and business suits sat under basketball hoops at the St. Paul Armory, eating gourmet spreads served on red-and-white-checkered tablecloths.
Franken noted the irony of the DFL meeting in the Armory, when Republicans typically champion military initiatives.
“It’s great to be here in the armory with my years of military service,” Franken said, who admitted that he avoided the military.
Wellstone warmed up the crowd by garnering support for his tentative presidential campaign. He affirmed his participation in upcoming debates and presence in Iowa and New Hampshire, critical presidential convention sites. Red-faced and shouting with excitement, Wellstone stopped just short of officially declaring his candidacy.
Franken took advantage of his proximity to a hopeful presidential candidate.
“Paul is running to make a point … I guess, which is a liberal Democrat from Minnesota can just never be elected as president,” Franken chided.
Mondale lost in a landslide in 1984, carrying the electoral votes of only Minnesota and the District of Columbia. In 1968, Minnesota Democrats Hubert H. Humphrey and Eugene McCarthy undertook unsuccessful bids for president.
Franken, who wrote two political satire books and now stars in the television sitcom “Lateline,” refrained from commenting on the Democrat gubernatorial candidates. Instead he teased that his mother, Phoebe, supported St. Paul Mayor Norm Coleman, a Republican contender.
Phoebe Franken, a Democrat attending the dinner, got up from her seat and scolded her son.
“It’s a joke. OK Mom, calm down,” the comedian replied.
The competing Democratic gubernatorial camps tossed animosity aside for the evening and concentrated on party unity. But the candidates did grab the opportunity to shake as many hands as possible, knowing that most of the guests would be delegates at the state convention in June, where the party will endorse a candidate.