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Published: Thursday, 8/3/2000

Unlikely pair light up 'Shadow Convention'


PHILADELPHIA - If it's true that politics is show, then there's plenty of opportunity for an ideological Odd Couple to join in the act.

Arianna Huffington, a syndicated columnist formerly known as a conservative Republican, and Al Franken, a liberal political satirist, have teamed up to offer commentary and witticisms at Ms. Huffington's "Shadow Convention,'' billed as a reform-minded alternative to the Republican and Democratic national conventions.

While the two may seem like an improbable fit, they deliver their shtick with ease and enjoyment, offering a contrast in looks and style. He arrived on time for a luncheon yesterday, still buttoning his shirt and looking disheveled; she entered late with hair perfectly coiffed and flawless make-up.

Ms. Huffington, once a darling of the right-wing, has shed ties to former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former husband Michael Huffington, who spent $30 million on a failed 1994 bid to unseat Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D., Calif.).

Ms. Huffington is now a self-described "recovering Republican.''

"You never fully recover,'' quipped Mr. Franken, who jokingly attributes his sidekick's evolving ideology to her association with him. "It's one day at a time.''

He makes no apologies for his anti-Republican leanings. "He's a shill for Gore,'' Ms. Huffington interjected.

But Mr. Franken refused to bite. "I'm a shill for Gore,'' he agreed. "I'm a shill for whoever the Democrat is.''

Ms. Huffington articulately expounded on the philosophy behind her Shadow Convention, sponsored by Common Cause and Public Campaign. She's promoting three reform-oriented, even liberal themes: Campaign finance reform to diminish the corrupting influence of money on politics, "living" wages high enough to curb poverty, and drug sentencing reform to emphasize treatment. "You need a movement from outside pushing the two parties to change,'' she said.

She professed disappointment with Sen. John McCain (R., Ariz.), who became a hero to independents and reformers during the GOP presidential primaries. Mr. McCain spoke at length Sunday at the Shadow Convention about his signature issue of campaign finance reform, but never even mentioned the words Tuesday night when he addressed the Republican National Convention.

It's Mr. Franken who provides much of the comic relief.

Take the GOP's Monday night theme of "leave no child behind,'' which featured an array of gospel singers and African American politicians, including Paul Harris, a member of the Virginia state assembly who is unknown nationally. Mr. Franken dubbed it: "Leave no Republican African American officeholder behind.''

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