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If you're a political junkie or a Stuart Smalley acolyte, you likely know that former "Saturday Night Live" writer and radio host Al Franken is running for the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party against the state's incumbent U.S. Senator, Republican Norm Coleman.

Coleman is the former mayor of St. Paul whose biography proudly boasts that he "engineered the return of a National Hockey League franchise to Minnesota" in the form of the Minnesota Wild, who were awarded to the state in 1997. Funding and construction for the Xcel Energy Center began the following year, on Coleman's watch.

Naturally, this being an election in the State of Hockey, Coleman sought to play up his role in bringing the Wild to Minnesota. So his campaign aired this ad that listed his accomplishments while voices off-camera reminded viewers that he's the one who "brought hockey back."

Mixing sports with politics. Never good. This is how you end up with stuff like Hillary Clinton, Cubs and Yankees superfan.

The Washington Post's Ad Wars column praised the Coleman ad as "savvy," noting that "not only does he remind voters that he is an effective representative for the state but he also does it in a fun way that plays into the state's well established fondness for ice hockey."

Of course, Coleman is running against one of the most famous political satirists of the last 30 years, and the Franken campaign didn't disappoint: It unleashed a wicked online response that parodied and turned around Coleman's "he brought hockey back" mantra.

Local blogs quickly jumped on this back-and-forth over the Wild; suddenly, hockey was being mentioned in the same breath as Iraq and the economy as a hot-button issue in this U.S. Senate race.

First, the Franken Web response ad:

Just like Franken used hockey against Coleman, pro-GOP supporters are using it against Franken as well -- framing this Web ad as an attack on the State of Hockey itself. Minnesota Democrats Exposed was outraged, for example:

Sadly, the mocking of Minnesota's proud traditions like hockey is something we Minnesotans should expect more of from Team Franken. This happens when you have a candidate like Al Franken, who moves from his home in New York to run for the U.S. Senate in Minnesota and when you have east-coast transplants and Washington D.C. staffers parachuting into Minnesota to run his campaign.

I hope Coleman's campaign reminds the roughly 18,000 people that attend each regular season home game of the Minnesota Wild later this year that Team Franken mocked the return of the NHL to Minnesota.

Ah, the sweet smell of pseudo-outrage in political campaigns...

The Star Tribune views Franken's online retort as part of the campaign's sharper tone. The race remains rather close, although Coleman has the advantage now that former Gov. Jesse Ventura (did I just type that?) has indicated he won't join the fray.

Will hockey continue to be an issue in the campaign? Perhaps. Blogger David Zarkin reminds readers that state money was used to build the Wild's arena, where the GOP convention will be held: "Next time working Minnesotans deal with their deteriorating financial outlook they can fantasize that they are at a hockey game that they can't afford."

And blogger Lloydletta appears ready to make the stadium funding a "pork barrel" spending issue with Coleman: "The more Norm Coleman uses this sort of advertising, the more likely it is that base Republican voters will decide to leave the Senate ballot line blank."

Even the hockey blogs are getting involved, as Minnesota Wild Times wonders how, exactly, Coleman in fact "brought hockey back."

In the end, there are too many issues in this or any other campaign in 2008 for an 11-year-old decision on a hockey team to make or break a candidate. (Unless you're the guy who let a beloved local team escape to another city; but Norman Green isn't on the ticket in Minnesota.)

From a political junkie point of view, it is rather interesting how a jovial boast in a Coleman television ad was quickly repurposed to devastating effect by Team Franken. It may just be hockey, but for a moment it was comedic political ammunition.

If only "Stuart Saves His Family" had been half as funny ...

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