Senate candidates trade barbs in final debateAttacks of past week continue in face-to-face meeting
The country’s costliest U.S. Senate campaign left those at the candidates’ final debate Sunday thinking it could be the nastiest, too.
By: Scott Wente, Worthington Daily Globe
ST. PAUL — The country’s costliest U.S. Senate campaign left those at the candidates’ final debate Sunday thinking it could be the nastiest, too.
The sharp campaign attacks that dominated the past week continued in the hour-long Minnesota Public Radio debate, with the two leading Minnesota U.S. Senate candidates trading frequent barbs about campaign accusations and policy positions.
It started with a question to Republican Sen. Norm Coleman about allegations that a friend of his tried to use a business transaction to funnel money to the senator.
Coleman said there was no truth to the claims and he went right at Democratic challenger Al Franken, accusing him of supporting a television commercial about the issue that Coleman said defames his wife.
“Maybe you just don’t know there are lines you don’t cross,” Coleman told Franken.
“This is not about Norm Coleman’s wife,” Franken responded. “This is about Norm Coleman’s political sugar daddy. Norm Coleman can’t blame this on me.”
The fifth debate came amid a nasty close to the volatile contest between Coleman and Franken, who polls show are in a virtual dead heat. Polls consistently have shown the Independence Party’s Dean Barkley far behind.
Barkley served as a buffer on the Fitzgerald Theater stage, seated between Franken and Coleman at a table with moderator Gary Eichten.
“Now you know one of the reasons I’m running,” Barkley said. “I call this a fitting end to probably the most negative U.S. Senate campaign in Minnesota’s history.”
The debate came days after Coleman’s name appeared in two Texas lawsuits alleging a wealthy Coleman friend and donor directed $75,000 through a Texas firm to the insurance company that contracts with the senator’s wife, Laurie Coleman. It allegedly was to help the couple financially.
Franken said he had nothing to do with the allegations.
The debate included audience questions, including one from a woman who asked the candidates what priorities they would sacrifice to balance the federal budget and pay down the national debt.
Franken said Congress should make spending cuts, and it could save money by allowing the government to negotiate prices for Medicare drugs and by ending the Iraqi war.
When pressed to name a specific proposal of his, Franken said early childhood education expansions may have to be slowed. “I want to do a lot of things, but all of these things that I’m talking about have a return on investment.”
Coleman said a five-year spending cap should be imposed, and that he would be willing to forgo his congressional salary increases.
“You do some things that are symbolic to send a message,” said Coleman, who later told the audience Franken’s tax and spending policies would worsen the economy.
Wente works for Forum Communications Co., which owns the Daily Globe.