DULUTH – Some of the nasty ads may be off the air, but Norm Coleman, Al Franken
and Dean Barkley brought some of their sharpest attacks yet during their latest U.S. Senate debate Thursday. The candidates sparred over who’s to blame for the country’s serious troubles and who has the courage, stamina and independence to fix them.
In a 90-minute face-off before 1,800 people at the University of Minnesota Duluth, Independence Party candidate Barkley, in particular, went bare-knuckled at his better-financed, big-party rivals, saying their campaigns have been corrupted by special interest money and negativity. He reserved some of his sharpest criticism for incumbent Coleman for, among other things, not doing more to stop the economic meltdown affecting the nation and world.
“Norm, on your watch we had the greatest malfeasance in economic history. If you were in Enron, right now you’d probably be under indictment, not running for reelection.”
Coleman responded that “It’s easy from the cheap seats to throw shots,” and said that Barkley and Franken lack his experience and his understanding of what it takes to forge deals in the hard-ball partisan atmosphere of Washington. Responding to Barkley’s charge that he was beholden to big oil companies and other special interests, Coleman said Barkley is one to talk; he worked as a tobacco lobbyist.
“We have real problems out there, real challenges,” Coleman said. “In the end it’s about who can work out there and who can solve it.”
While occasionally taking shots at Coleman, Democrat Franken repeatedly returned to his theme of wanting to be a middle-class champion in Washington. He repeated that he would have voted against the $700 billion economic rescue package because he thinks it will hurt average taxpayers to help Wall Street. He called for a $5,000 tax credit to help people pay for college and said he likes Barack Obama’s proposal to place moratoriums on home foreclosures.
“Why not a $10,000 tax credit? Why not $20,000?” asked Barkley. “Who’s going to pay for this? We’re broke. I’m not going to pander to people.” Franken responded that the money spent would be equal to just a few weeks of the Iraq war and could be financed by reducing tax breaks for millionaires.
On the war, Franken said he was “astounded” that Coleman “still believes [going to war in Iraq] was a good idea.”
Coleman responded: “I will not tell the parents of any kid who has died in Iraq that their son died because of a mistake. I simply will not do that.” He said the surge in Iraq succeeded in allowing “the forces of moderation to triumph over extremism,” and that “failure isn’t an option” in the continued battle against terrorism.
The candidates agreed that the United States must continue to fight the conditions in Afghanistan and elsewhere that breed terrorism. “You want to get it to the point where it’s tamped down, where it’s not always harming us,” Franken said. Barkley called for fighting it more by “building schools, not bombs,” to keep the country from turning toward Al-Qaida.
The candidates also agreed that the country must work toward energy independence, with Coleman citing wind-power tax credits and other initiatives he helped pass in Congress, and Franken and Barkley criticizing him for voting for a bill that included tax credits for oil companies.
Turning to Coleman, Franken said: “There was no reason to do that to get wind credits unless you had senators who took money from big oil companies.”
The candidates agreed that Congress needs to work to regain the trust of the American people. Coleman reminded the audience that he pulled his negative ads last week because he didn’t want to add to peoples’ discomfort.
Both challengers questioned the purity of his motives. “Senator Coleman ran millions of dollars of negative ads against me, and they backfired, so he stopped running them,” Franken said.
Barkley told Coleman, “I’d love to hear an apology for you putting Minnesotans for the last 10 months of these negative ads.” He said public financing of campaigns would help ease cynicism over campaigning and special interests, with each voter getting vouchers to give to the campaign of their choice.
Larry Oakes • 218-727-7344