Elections 2002: Minn. Sen. race - Attack!

(Part of UPI's Special Report on Election 2002)

ST. PAUL, Minn. (UPI) -- Former St. Paul Mayor Norm Coleman likes to describe himself as a "can-do" kind of guy and what he wants to do is unseat Minnesota Democratic Sen. Paul Wellstone in what is becoming the most expensive race in state history.


The candidates have been waging their campaign, in large part, through television commercials. But all that spending -- nearly $18 million so far with Wellstone outspending Coleman by $3 million -- has done little to produce a clear-cut winner so far.

A poll released Sept. 28 by the Minneapolis Star Tribune showed Wellstone with 46 percent of the vote vs. Coleman with 42 percent. Seven percent of the 1,038 likely voters polled said they had no opinion. The remaining 5 percent was split among three third party candidates. The latest MSNBC/Zogby poll of 500 likely voters Oct. 9-11 gave Wellstone 46 percent and Coleman 37 percent with 10 percent of those queried still undecided. The poll had an error rate of 4.5 percentage points.


William Flanigan, professor of political science at the University of Minnesota, said support for each of the candidates has remained relatively steady and there's not much either can do to sway voters at this point.

"These are two candidates who are really well-known," Flanigan said. "Most people had a pretty rich impression of what they're like before the campaign started. It makes it harder to change images and appear different to people than you have in the past."

Coleman, once a Democrat himself, and Wellstone have spent a large part of the campaign trashing each other, arguing over whether each should have accepted certain campaign contributions and trading barbs over the inaccuracies of the other's campaign commercials.

Coleman was especially miffed over a Wellstone ad Coleman says misrepresents his position on privatizing Social Security. Democrats, in turn, have written letters to television stations, advising them a Republican Party ad misrepresents Wellstone's votes on Social Security.

But by national standards, Flanigan said the campaign hasn't been particularly ugly.

"One very negative ad against Wellstone only ran once or twice," Flanigan said. "It starts with a picture of Wellstone with a champagne glass and presumably has millionaires drinking with him. It denounces his support of 'communist' health care and there's an image with a communist flag over his face. Then there's a voice saying, 'He said he wouldn't run again but then he lied, lied, lied.'


"I don't think voters much care about that promise."

Much of the Coleman effort is being underwritten by the National Republican Senatorial Committee. President Bush has made two appearances for Coleman, helping to raise $1.4 million.

Republican Coleman lauds his ability to work with a Democratic City Council.

"I will bring a common sense, can-do, reach across party lines and get-it-done approach," Coleman has pledged.

But Wellstone supporters say beware of the rhetoric, alleging Coleman has reversed his position on some issues.

"Voters have no way of knowing what he'll do if he gets in the Senate," Wellstone spokesman Jim Farrell said.

Coleman has admitted changing his mind on Iraq after listening to President Bush's speech to the United Nations. Characterizing Iraq's Saddam Hussein as "a modern Hitler," Coleman said before the United States takes any action, the nation needs to unite. However, he cautions, Americans shouldn't wait too long before doing so. He stopped short, however, of saying whether he would support unilateral action.

Wellstone, who sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, was against going to war with Iraq in 1990-91 and also voted against the resolution that passed Oct. 11, although he does support disposing of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.


Coleman has been trying to use Wellstone's position, calling the Democrat "the wrong person at ... the wrong time."

Wellstone has had a mixed record on military issues. For most of his Senate career, he has voted against spending on expensive, new weapons systems but since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, he has voted for military retaliation and funding for anti-terrorism activities. He has also long championed benefits for military veterans.

(Reported by Marcella S. Kreiter, UPI Regional Editor, Chicago)

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