Senate candidates make final push into the weekendby Mark Zdechlik, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — With the election just days away, Republican Sen. Norm Coleman called on DFL Senate candidate Al Franken and his allies to "end their vicious 11th hour political attacks."
Senator Coleman rearranged his campaign schedule to give reporters an angry response to the allegations that a friend and contributor funneled money to him through his wife's employer.
"Thank you all for being here with me in Moorhead today. In a few days we will have one of the most important elections of our time," said Coleman. "But instead of focusing on the issues, my opponent and his political allies want to divert attention away from this campaign with a false and malicious political attack."
Coleman says he and his family are the victims of an outrageous smear campaign. He says the allegations were delivered to newspaper reporters before the lawsuit was even filed, and he believes Democrats are behind the charges.
"And I just want to make it very clear, we've got an election in three days. I know Minnesotans. They will reject this, see it for what it is. These are sleazy campaign tactics that pop up three days before an election, and I am very confident that Minnesotans will reject this. This is not the way that we campaign in Minnesota."
A lawyer for the man who filed the suit denied the litigation has anything to do with politics.
A couple of hours later at a campaign rally at the University of Minnesota Duluth, Al Franken denied any connection to the allegations.
Franken's campaign insists it was not aware of the lawsuit until reporters confronted Coleman about it earlier this week at a campaign stop in St. Cloud. But what Coleman called "sleazy campaign tactics," Franken called serious sworn allegations.
"These are made under oath in a lawsuit, and I do think that Senator Coleman is going to have to answer these charges before the election," said Franken. Independence Party candidate Dean Barkley says nothing surprises him in politics these days, and he suspects that Minnesota voters are so cynical about the Senate race that the allegations are not likely to have a big impact.
"I don't now if it's true or not. If it is true, hopefully that lawsuit will bring out the truth," said Barkley. "Norm is assumed innocent until proven guilty, but it does disturb the fact that they may be doing some things behind the scenes."
Carleton College political science professor Steven Schier says he's suspicious about the timing.
"It's not clear whether there is a serious controversy here or not, but the fact that it's occurring four days before an election, I think, indicates that it's being done to have a political effect," explained Schier.
According to the last Minnesota Public Radio News-University of Minnesota Humphrey Institute poll, Coleman and Franken are tied in a statistical dead heat.
Scheir says 11th hour campaign revelations can tilt elections, but he suspects given the tone of Minnesota's 2008 Senate race, voters will look skeptically at the story.
"I think the public, you know as they watch this, and they've been hearing a lot about this Senate campaign, too much for too long, I have a feeling that it's not going to be easy to convince voters with last minute news of this sort one way of the other," said Scheir.
Schier says he wishes the news media could determine the facts of cases like this before reporting the story, but information is all over the Internet.
Voters will likely have to make their own judgement on how seriously the charges should be taken.