From the time Al Franken started his Senate campaign, he's been quick to sharply criticize Norm Coleman and link Coleman to the unpopular Bush administration.
"We're going to hold Norm Coleman accountable for what he's done in the U.S. Senate," said Franken at a recent state Capitol rally.
"George W. Bush and Norm Coleman have taken this country in the wrong direction and they've taken all of us with them," said Franken.
Coleman says he's running on a record of public service that dates back to the 1970's. When he announced his campaign two weeks ago, Coleman cited a long list of Senate accomplishments, but he didn't mention President Bush. He said the election should be about looking ahead to how Republicans and Democrats can work together.
"At a time like this when national partisanship is so inflamed, we need 'uniters' and not dividers," Coleman told supporters.
Right after that speech, Coleman told reporters that Franken is running against yesterday. Coleman also said that Minnesotans are more interested in what lies ahead.
"I don't think most Minnesotans, in the end, are really going to be looking back. I think they're looking to the future," Coleman said.
Coleman also reminded reporters he's not running for re-election with President Bush.
"George Bush isn't on the ballot. He's talking about yesterday and running a race about division. I meant what I said. This is a time for 'uniters' and not dividers," Coleman said.
“George Bush isn't on the ballot.”Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn.
Coleman's implication is that Franken is behaving like a divisive, partisan who's obsessed with the past when Franken brings up Coleman's close ties with the Bush White House and his support for the war in Iraq.
At the same time, some of Coleman's biggest criticisms of Franken revolve around Franken's past as an entertainer.
Franken says Coleman is trying to play it both ways.
"He's saying, you know, this should be about my record unless I don't want it to be about my record," Franken said. "This should be about the future unless I want it to be about the past. I'm not tearing my hair out. I think it's kind of funny and, you know, kind of pathetic."
University of Minnesota Political Science Professor Lawrence Jacobs said Franken and Coleman are each hoping they can convince reporters and voters what the campaign should be about.
"This year it's particularly striking because we've got an incumbent who has to be very careful about the kind of issues that Minnesotans, who are up-for-grabs, are thinking about," Jacobs said. "He doesn't want them thinking about how things were six years ago before there was the Iraq war, before we had this downturn in the economy. Likewise, we hear Al Franken raising the kind of questions that he thinks are important and that he wants voters to think about," Jacobs said.
An informal sampling of a few Minnesotans who happened to be at the Shoreview Community Center on a recent afternoon found that citizens think they, not candidates and political consultants, should determine what issues are important.
There was also agreement that candidates should be looked at from several angles.
"I mean, I think you need to look at the past and learn from the past and use that for what you're going to do in the future. So I think it's a good combination," said Bob Bennett of Lino Lakes. "But I think they they need to get to the issues rather than slinging mud and pointing fingers."
Toby Lillibridge who lives in Vadnais Heights said he considers candidates based on their accomplishments.
"Al Franken or Coleman, if they fail on a lot of their tasks, then I would probably steer clear of them," Lillibridge said.
Political scientist Lawrence Jacobs said there's nor reason to expect the two campaigns to abandon their efforts to tell voters what they should be thinking about.
Jacobs is predicting Coleman and Franken could spend more than $40 million trying to sell their messages. That doesn't count the millions more that will be spent by outside groups on behalf of the candidates.