Looking for traction in a tightening race, Sen. Norm Coleman on Thursday staked his claim as "Minnesota's mayor" by taking longtime ally and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani on board his Hope Express for a campaign swing through the state.

With a dozen Minnesota mayors massed behind them and several hundred people shouting their support at a rally at Hotel Sofitel in Bloomington, the two Republican ex-mayors said running a city provides the best training for the kind of pragmatic, bipartisan politics that gets results.

"I may have 'Senator' in front of my name, but I still have 'Mayor' stitched in my underwear," said Coleman as Giuliani grinned and the crowd roared.

While Coleman only once mentioned his DFL opponent, Al Franken, Giuliani drew a stark contrast between Coleman's 14 years as St. Paul mayor and senator and Franken's lack of elective experience.

"The people of Minnesota should not be asked to provide on-the-job training for someone who has no background," Giuliani said. "When [Coleman] gets up in the United States Senate to speak, no one's going to be laughing, no one's going to be giggling, no one's going to be saying 'How did this guy get here?'"

Continuing the mayor theme, the campaign unveiled a Mayors for Coleman Coalition of 49 mayors from across the state backing the senator.

Both Coleman and Giuliani are native New Yorkers, former Democrats and among the country's most successful mayors in the 1990s.

When Coleman ran for the Senate in 2002, Giuliani -- by then nationally admired for his response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks -- twice came to Minnesota to endorse him and to speak on his behalf. Coleman returned the favor by endorsing Giuliani for president last year, saying they shared a philosophy of pragmatic conservatism.

Giuliani is the narrator of a recent robocall from the McCain-Palin presidential campaign and the Republican National Committee suggesting that Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama is soft on crime. Such robocalls have been criticized by some as unduly negative and unfair.

"This wasn't a personal attack, it wasn't negative campaigning at all," Giuliani said after the rally. "I pointed out that Senator Barack Obama doesn't support mandatory minimum sentences. ... If you can't raise the man's record ... then what you're basically saying is, you would just like to see him crowned president without any questions being asked."

'Too big for one party'

Earlier Thursday, Coleman spoke at the Humphrey Institute candidate forum at the University of Minnesota, discussing how to work in a bipartisan way to win energy independence.

He said consensus may be easier to achieve on energy than on Iraq or taxes, and predicted that a comprehensive Energy Reform Act will pass Congress next year with the long-range goal of ending energy imports within 30 years.

"America's major problems are too big for one party to solve," said Coleman, who has been blasted by Franken for his ties to President Bush. Overall, during his years in the Senate, Coleman supported Bush 83 percent of the time, placing him 42nd among 49 Republican senators.

Coleman said that he worried the nation's commitment to energy independence may decline as gas prices fall. "It would be very dangerous for Americans to lose the resolve we need to have," he said.

Giuliani will join Coleman today on a bus tour of southern Minnesota with morning stops in Mankato, Owatonna and Rochester. Coleman said he has visited 40 Minnesota cities this week and has another 51 to go in his final push to get out the vote.

Kevin Duchschere • 612-673-4455