Senate candidates clash in last debate before election

By Patrick Condon

Associated Press

ST. PAUL — Months of tension between U.S. Senate candidates Norm Coleman and Al Franken spilled into their last debate Sunday night, as the Republican and Democrat traded heated accusations about allegations against Coleman in a lawsuit.

It started immediately, as Coleman denied that he’s taken any money or gifts from supporters without disclosing it. That charge stems from sworn statements in a civil lawsuit filed last week in Texas, claiming Coleman’s friend and donor Nasser Kazeminy funneled $75,000 to a business that employs Coleman’s wife in order to enrich the senator.

"The answer is no," Coleman said when asked if the allegations are true. He then swung back to his claim that Franken is responsible for a TV ad about the allegations, which shows a clip of reporters asking Coleman about the alleged payments to his wife’s employer and which the senator said defames her. Franken’s campaign isn’t running the ad, which is paid for by Democrats in Washington.


"You have an ad that’s defaming my wife," Coleman said. "I think there’s a line in this business. You can take any shot you want at the candidate. Mr. Franken, rather than rejecting it, is promoting it."

Franken replied that Coleman must answer questions about the allegations — and rejected the idea that discussion of it is an attack on Laurie Coleman.

"This is not about Norm Coleman’s wife," Franken said. "This is about Senator Coleman’s political sugar daddy."

The character issue

But that didn’t end the recriminations between Coleman and Franken. For the first time after five debates, Coleman personally criticized Franken on an issue other Republicans hammered for months — that statements and writings in his previous careers as a comedian and writer betrayed an angry sensibility unsuited to the U.S. Senate.

"I think folks have a right to look at the character, to look at the record," Coleman said. "Jokes about rape, is that a line? Writing pornography for Playboy, is that a line? Calling a Supreme Court justice sexist, is that a line?"

The sniping between Coleman and Franken left a wide opening for the Independence Party’s Dean Barkley, who presented his third-place candidacy as an alternative for voters tired of what he called "the most negative campaign in Minnesota’s history."

"I ask people, do you think either Al or Norm will change the way Washington works?" Barkley said. "That’s a question you have to ask yourself."



Once the candidates got down to issues, they staked out what’s become familiar turf in the last few weeks of the campaign. Asked their top priority if they are elected, each candidate had a different answer.

Franken said his main goal would be "getting the economy back on track." Coleman said he wanted to be a part of changing the divisive tone in Washington and accomplishing common goals. Barkley warned that the country needed to put a rein on spending, saying that in all of his past runs for elected office going back to 1992, he’s warned of the dangers of a spiraling deficit.

Questions for each other

Each candidate was allowed to ask a question of another candidate. Barkley asked Franken to name one issue on which he agreed with Republican presidential candidate John McCain over Democratic candidate Barack Obama. Franken said he agreed with remarks by GOP vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin in her debate that the U.S. military should run more counterterrorism tactics in Afghanistan.

Coleman asked Franken to name three things he’d done to help normal Minnesotans. Franken cited visits to chemical dependency treatment centers, an initiative he undertook as a radio host to buy armor for underequipped troops in Iraq, and that he’s given speeches at events benefiting various charities.

Franken asked Coleman if he supported a proposal of Franken’s: "Do you agree with me that we should have a lifetime ban on politicians becoming lobbyists?"

Coleman said he did not support that proposal.


"Al suggested this when gas prices were high, that one way we could bring down the price of gas is not let senators be lobbyists," Coleman said. "That’s not going to do anything. What does that accomplish?"

Yes or no

To a series of yes or no questions, Franken and Barkley agreed that President Bush’s tax cuts benefiting the wealthiest Americans should be repealed; Coleman said that would result in higher taxes for too many small business owners.

All three candidates said they believed U.S. troops would be out of Iraq within six years; but Franken and Barkley advocated a withdrawal timeline tied to further Iraq funding, while Coleman does not.

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