Minn. Senate candidates prepare for final debateby Tom Scheck, Minnesota Public Radio
The three major party candidates for U.S. Senate will meet in their final debate tonight at the Fitzgerald Theater in downtown St. Paul.
The debate comes one day after Republican Sen. Norm Coleman blamed Democrat Al Franken for engineering a last minute attack against his family, something Democrats called ridiculous.
St. Paul, Minn. — On Saturday, Norm Coleman started running a TV ad that blames Al Franken and his "Democratic allies" for bringing up a Texas lawsuit that alleges a friend of Coleman used a business to funnel money to the Senator.
"This time Al Franken has crossed the line. My name's on the ballot. I'm fair game for his ugly smears. My wife and family are not. In Minnesota, this is as dirty as it gets," said Coleman in the ad.
At a campaign stop in Rosemount on Saturday, Coleman again said the allegations are not true. He also said Franken and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee are orchestrating the attack against him and his family.
"The issue here is using something for political purposes. You guys figure out the legal stuff. All I know is that there's an election three days, three or four days before Election Day, you have attack ads, an attack ad with claims about my wife that are simply untrue, and I'm offended by that, and I have no doubt that the people of Minnesota are offended by it," said Coleman.
Throughout the day Coleman and his campaign manager said that Franken and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee were behind the suit, because an unmarked envelope was delivered to the Star Tribune before the lawsuit was filed. An official with the Star Tribune declined comment on Coleman's assertion.
Coleman has been forced to defend himself in recent days after a Texas lawsuit surfaced that involved Coleman and his wife.
Paul McKim of Houston alleges that Nassar Kazeminy encouraged him to divert $75,000 to a company where Coleman's wife works. The suit said Kazeminy, a friend and long-time Coleman donor, wanted the money to get to Coleman. McKim reportedly has said he doesn't know Norm Coleman, and that his suit has nothing to do with the election. A second suit was also filed against Kazeminy and McKim that makes similar allegations.
For his part, Franken said Coleman's suggestion that he had anything to do with the lawsuit is ridiculous.
"I am not a politician, and I thought I had seen everything there was to see in this race, but really Minnesota deserves better than this," said Franken.
Franken held a news conference in St. Paul to react to Coleman's accusation. He said he didn't learn of the information in the lawsuit until Wednesday. That's when reporters shouted questions at Coleman about the suit after a campaign stop in St. Cloud. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee included video of the dust up in its latest TV commercial. Franken said Coleman's claim that he is somehow behind the whole thing is ridiculous.
"This lawsuit in Texas, that's Nassar Kazeminy's problem and Norm Coleman's problem. This ad and Norm Coleman's attempt to make it my problem instead, well, that's simply shameful," said Franken.
Other DFL leaders called on Kazeminy to come forward and clear up the issue. Attempts to reach Kazeminy were unsuccessful.
Both Coleman, Franken and Independence Party candidate Dean Barkley have been working hard to make their last pitch to as many voters as possible. Coleman shook hands with supporters at breakfast joints and coffee shops in the suburbs. Franken held a get out the vote rally in Northfield. Barkley greeted fans at University of Minnesota sporting events.
Barkley was shaking hands with University of Minnesota hockey fans outside of St. Paul's Xcel Energy Center. When he was asked about the latest flap involving Franken and Coleman, Barkley said there was another option.
"Let them do their things. I'm just concerned about letting people know what their alternative is, and that they do have a choice in this campaign and to think hard when they go into the polls on Tuesday as to who they want to represent them," said Barkley.
The back and forth allegations between Coleman and Franken come at a time when polls show the two locked in a tight race. University of Minnesota political science professor Larry Jacobs said any slip-up or negative story could determine the outcome of the election. He said Coleman's strategy of blaming Franken for his own bad news is both audacious and brilliant.
"There does not appear to be any connection to Al Franken, and yet the Franken campaign is caught on its heel defending itself. So for Franken now he's got to find a way to get out from the story, and it becomes trickier and trickier, because if he comes out and defends himself it creates an opening for Sen. Coleman to come back on him... Very difficult situation for the Franken campaign," explained Jacobs.
The three candidates will continue campaigning around the metro area today before tonight's debate.