DFLer Al Franken's U.S. Senate campaign has gone on the offensive in the past few days, producing a blistering ad on Republican Sen. Norm Coleman's record, a Web spoof of a Coleman ad and, on Monday, offering Franken's own pitch on the economy, geared to the middle class.

The Coleman campaign decried what it called an inaccurate attack ad.

At a coffee shop in his childhood hometown of St. Louis Park, Franken told supporters Monday that he would expand the child-care tax credit, create a $2,000 caregiver credit for family members of the elderly and call for a new, privately run retirement account that would feature a 30 percent government matching contribution.

He also repeatedly linked Coleman to President Bush, saying "When George W. Bush took the wheel of the U.S. economy, he turned it sharply to the right and drove us right into a ditch, and Norm Coleman has been riding shotgun all the way."

Franken promoted what he dubbed "401U's," a variant on 401(k)s that would stay with workers from job to job and could be used for retirement, education expenses or purchase of a first home.

The accounts would feature a 30 percent government contribution, which would come from eliminating current tax deductions on retirement accounts.

Franken said the Family and Medical Leave Act should be expanded to allow not only for child care, but also elder care, and cover employees at firms with as few as 25 workers.

He said that expanded paid leave would cost $1.5 billion a year and that he would pay for his plan by ending tax breaks for companies that move jobs overseas.

The proposed caregiver tax credit, he said, would phase out for incomes above $150,000.

Employers who offered "family friendly benefits" such as child-care assistance or telecommuting would get a tax credit of up to $1,200 per employee.

"These are not tax credits to help the rich become richer," Franken said. "These are tax cuts to help the middle class make ends meet."

With the advent of national campaign strategists, including one added just last week, the Franken campaign has taken on a sharper edge, struggling to put the focus squarely on Coleman's record.

The Coleman camp fought back Monday in a media missive that characterized Franken as "vulgar" and "dishonest," claiming that he had distorted Coleman's record and had been the first to air an attack ad.

The Franken TV ad contrasts the two candidates, noting Coleman's support for the Iraq war and the Bush tax cuts and a 2005 vote to cut student loans as part of a budget reconciliation bill.

"This is not an attack ad," said Franken spokeswoman Jess McIntosh. "This is about as straight a policy comparative as you can get. Certainly as a senator you have to expect that your record is going to be highlighted."

Coleman campaign manager Cullen Sheehan, in an e-mail, called the ad "Attack-O-Rama," saying Franken's campaign was "in trouble" because of his prior tax problems and scatological writings and "has now gone into full-on attack mode."

The other Franken ad popped up on the Internet Monday. It spoofs Coleman's most recent TV ad, in which a regular guy in a bowling alley highlights Coleman's mayoral record only to have his buddies continually call out, "and he brought hockey back."

The Franken spoof singles out less favorable elements of Coleman's Senate record and ends with the main character observing that Minnesota should keep hockey but reject Coleman.

Patricia Lopez • 651-222-1288