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Franken wins Democratic endorsement on first ballot after apologizing for jokes in his past at today's Minnesota DFL convention

ROCHESTER, Minn. - Satirist-turned-Senate hopeful Al Franken convinced Democratic activists today to look beyond controversies over his past as he secured the party's U.S. Senate endorsement on the first ballot.

"I'm not a perfect person and I'm not going to pretend to have all the answers, but I'll tell the truth," Franken told the state DFL Party convention after accepting the endorsement. "I will keep my spine and I will work for you."

Franken beat fellow DFL challenger Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer on the first ballot and immediately shifted his focus to the general election challenge of unseating Sen. Norm Coleman. The Republican senator is not representing Minnesotans in Washington, he said.

"It's time we had a senator who took this job seriously," Franken said.

Seeking to quell Democrats' concerns about his electability, Franken earlier today apologized for some of his past writings and jokes that brought controversy to his campaign in recent weeks.

Al Franken makes a point Saturday while answering DFL state convention delegates' questions. He and Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer were fighting for the party's U.S. Senate endorsement. Photographer: Minn. State Capitol Bureau

In a speech to delegates before balloting began, Franken said he is running for U.S. Senate to serve the people of Minnesota, but acknowledged news of the past week has not been about that.

"I've had some tough conversations this week," Franken told delegates. "It kills me that things I said and wrote sent a message to some of my friends in this room and the people in this state that they can't count on me to be a champion for women and for all people of Minnesota, in this campaign and in the Senate.

"I'm sorry for that, because that's not who I am," Franken said to loud applause from his supporters gathered at the Mayo Civic Center.

Many delegates to the state DFL Party convention said they wanted to hear Franken address those issues directly as they considered who to endorse for the general election contest against GOP Sen. Norm Coleman.

Republican Party officials said all Democratic candidates will have to explain why they did not condemn Franken's past comments.

"Neither the DFL Party or its candidates will remember this day fondly in November when Minnesotans reject their decision to endorse a man who finds humor in a subject as serious as rape," Minnesota GOP Chairman Ron Carey said.

As Franken faced the criticism in recent weeks, Nelson-Pallmeyer said his candidacy was gaining traction. He ran a campaign similar to that of the late Sen. Paul Wellstone, another Minnesota college professor who turned to politics.

"Today we choose hope," Nelson-Pallmeyer told delegates earlier in the day. "Today we decide that we are going to face problems with honesty and courage. Today we commit ourselves to bold action."

"It's been an incredible honor to be part of this campaign," said Nelson-Pallmeyer, Franken's opponent for the endorsement who withdrew from the race and backed Franken.

Earlier this year Franken was considered Democrats' likely pick to take on Coleman, but that front-runner status increasingly appeared in jeopardy in recent weeks as he faced mounting criticism, including for some of his jokes and writings from his time as a comedian and author.

Franken was found to have underpaid income taxes in 17 states, while overpaying in two. Then, criticism grew when Republicans dug up an article about pornography Franken wrote for Playboy magazine in 2000. Franken came into the convention Friday criticized by both Republicans and Democrats for a joke he made about rape he proposed for a "Saturday Night Live" skit, which never saw air.

Franken said that "for 35 years, I was a writer. I wrote a lot of jokes. Some of them weren't funny. Some of them weren't appropriate. Some of them were downright offensive."

"I understand that," he added. "And I understand that the people of Minnesota deserve a senator who won't say things that will make them feel uncomfortable."

Endorsing a Senate candidate was Democrats' main job as they gather at Rochester's Mayo Civic Center this weekend for their state convention. Many delegates came to Rochester with the Franken controversies on their mind.

As Franken faced mounting criticism in recent days, Nelson-Pallmeyer said he has the ability to convince citizens to participate in the political process and said he has developed a statewide network of campaign volunteers.

In the lead up to balloting, campaign staff for both Franken and Nelson-Pallmeyer were working the convention floor, solidifying support from committed delegates while trying to woo uncommitted delegates. The candidates also worked the convention floor, talking with delegates.

Franken still could face a primary election challenge. Trial attorney Mike Ciresi, who earlier this year dropped out of the Senate race, has not ruled out running in a Democratic primary.

During a question-and-answer session this morning, the candidates shared similar views on tax issues, health care and how the federal government can fight global warming.

They were asked why they are Democrats.

"I have a confession to make," Franken said. "I was a Republican -- until I was 13."

Franken said his political views changed when he watched the civil rights movement.

Nelson-Pallmeyer said he's a Democrat because it's the party that stands for equality and fairness. But he said his own party can do better.

"Let's stand for peace and justice," he told delegates.