Coleman acknowledges tough race aheadby Mark Zdechlik, Minnesota Public Radio
Delegates to the Republican state convention in Rochester Friday will endorse Sen. Norm Coleman for re-election. Minnesota's 2008 Senate election is expected to be one of the closest races in the nation. Coleman has amassed millions of dollars for his campaign as has his likely DFL challenger Al Franken. And the campaign is showing early signs of being a bitter and expensive battle.
St. Paul, Minn. — Sen. Coleman was surrounded by uniformed police at the State Capitol Thursday announcing an endorsement from the Minneapolis and St. Paul police federations.
Coleman used the opportunity to emphasize his "bringing people together" campaign theme.
"One of the things I always pride myself on is bringing people together and getting things done," he said. "Bringing Minneapolis and St. Paul police together is a very big deal, by the way so I take great pride in that. That's a big accomplishment."
At the press conference Coleman emphasized his long record of public service in Minnesota. Coleman often talks about his experience, beginning in the Minnesota Attorney General's office in the 1970's. And he cites his accomplishments during two terms as St. Paul Mayor in the 90's before he won election to the Senate six years ago.
Coleman has been busy with Senate business in Washington and has not spent nearly as much time campaigning as have Democrats Al Franken and Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer. But when Coleman is on the topic of his re-election, from fund raising to speeches, he's also quick to criticize Franken.
"I am running on my record because, unlike my likely opponent, I actually have one," he said in March during his formal campaign kick- off.
"What a concept, that before you serve in the Senate maybe you should have done something to show that you can actually do the job," he said about Franken.
Coleman also frequently jabs Franken for his relatively recent move from New York back to Minnesota.
And he suggests that Franken, with his wealth from his entertainment career, would be hard pressed to understand the concerns of working Minnesotans.
With the economy ranking high among voter concerns, Coleman said he has a much closer connection to voters than does Franken.
"I'm the only guy in this race who has had to empty out part of his IRA to pay for his kid's college education," Coleman said. "I grew up in a middle class family and didn't go to fancy private schools. Big difference between me and Al Franken."
Coleman said he built his political career working across the political spectrum. He can boast experience not only as a Republican but also as a Democrat. Coleman switched parties in 1996.
The Bush White House convinced Coleman to run for Senate, and Coleman's critics accuse him of rubber-stamping Bush's agenda.
Coleman insists he's been his own man in Washington. He said that has meant sometimes supporting and sometimes opposing the Republican White House.
"I'm never looking to see, is the president supporting it? You don't make that judgement," he said. "You make the judgement, is it good for Minnesota?"
Congressional Quarterly's analysis of Coleman's voting record indicates Coleman voted with President Bush 98 percent of the time in Coleman's first year in the Senate. During his third and fourth years Coleman's support for Bush fell into the 80 percent range. Last year Coleman cast votes in support of the Bush White House just 68 percent of the time.
Coleman has consistently opposed the president's call for oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. He has differed with the White House over his belief that more money should be spent to fund children's health insurance programs and that more money should go to local communities.
Most recently Coleman and many other Republicans voted to override President Bush's veto of the farm bill.
Federal Election Commission records show Coleman has raised nearly $12 million for his re-election. He ended the first quarter of this year with almost $7 million dollars. Critics say much of the money has come from industries Congress regulates.
Analysis by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics shows Coleman has collected more than $1.8 million from the financial, insurance and real estate sectors and more than $600,000 from the health care industry.
But Coleman insists he is not beholden to special interests.
The campaign that brought Coleman to Washington in 2002 attracted an enormous amount of national attention following the death of Sen. Paul Wellstone and the brief campaign of former Vice President Walter Mondale. By defeating Mondale, Coleman became a GOP star.
He traveled the nation extensively raising money for Republicans. DFL leaders accused the freshman Senator of neglecting his Minnesota constituents.
At the 2004 state DFL convention Democratic Sen. Mark Dayton, tore into Coleman after Coleman criticized him for calling for a troop withdrawal from Iraq.
"Up until now I've held my tongue about Norm Coleman," Dayton said.
Dayton was furious that Coleman called his withdrawal plan, "a good example of why we leave fighting wars to generals not politicians."
Dayton called Coleman an apologist for the Bush administration and suggested Coleman didn't know what he was talking about on Iraq.
"I know what I'm talking about" Dayton said. "I've spent hundreds of hours talking with and listening to generals, colonels, majors, lieutenants and privates in the United States military, including one hour of a top-secret briefing for senators, to which Norm Coleman arrived late and left early. I know. I know what I'm talking about."
Coleman campaigned for his first term in support of giving President Bush authority for a preemptive strike on Iraq.
He talked about it nearly six years ago at an American Legion club in Bloomington.
"Saddam is a menace and his menace grows with each passing day," Coleman said. "History will judge us harshly if knowing what we know we fail to act."
For years Coleman supported Bush's Iraq policy.
But his position changed. By February of last year he was questioning the president's troop surge plan.
Months later Coleman characterized the surge as a success.
Last fall Coleman himself voiced support for a proposal to withdraw several thousand troops by the end of last year.
More recently Coleman has been saying Iraqis, not American citizens, ought to be footing more of the bill for their reconstruction.
"You know I've said Iraq is a mess," he said recently. "We blew a lot of the reconstruction. We made mistakes with the de-Bathification. We did Iraqi reconstruction like big government liberals, pouring cash into things without adequate safeguards."
Around the country Republicans have been losing special congressional elections in places that had been GOP strongholds. Polls show Coleman enjoys a single digit lead over Al Franken
But Jennifer Duffy of the Cook Political Report said Coleman is by no means a shoo-in to keep his job.
"There is still an expectation that this is going to be among the closest races in the country," she said.
And, Duffy predicted Minnesota's Senate race will get ugly. So far much that ugliness has sprouted on the Internet. Conservative bloggers have ripped Franken for his tax problems and liberals have been pounding Coleman for his position on the war and for the sources of some of his campaign money.
Duffy said Coleman has benefited from highlighting areas in which he has differed with the Bush administration. But she said now is not a good time to be a Republican up for re-election.
"If 2008 proves as bad for Republicans as 2006, it's almost like these incumbents are being beaten by the political environment more so than by their challenger," she said.
Back at the state Capitol news conference Coleman said the police endorsement is important to him. It could help him in what he says will be a very close election.
"This is no question a tough election cycle," he said. "It's a tough election cycle because people out there are hurting right now."
And Coleman said people are worried about the cost of gas, health care and the value of their homes.
But Coleman said voters will have a clear choice in approaches to dealing with those problems.
- Morning Edition, 05/30/2008, 7:20 a.m.