Franken, Coleman begin general election 'sprint'

David Wellstone
David Wellstone, son of the late U.S. Sen. Paul Wellstone, endorses Democrat Al Franken's Senate bid at the Paul and Shiela Wellstone Center on St. Paul's west side Wednesday.
MPR Photo/Mark Zdechlik

Democratic Senate candidate Al Franken said Wednesday he wants to invoke the late Sen. Paul Wellstone for inspiration as he begins the 55-day "sprint" to the general election, promising to fight for working class families and criticizing Republican Sen. Norm Coleman as beholden to special interests.

The Coleman campaign promised to lay out its own "clear choice" for voters, with plans to contrast Coleman's lifetime of government service with Franken's "lack of any record to run on," spokesman Mark Drake said.

Emerging from Tuesday's primary with lopsided wins in their respected races, both Franken and Coleman moved Wednesday to firm up the messages that will carry them through the general election.

Al Franken
DFL U.S. Senate candidate Al Franken easily won his party primary on Tuesday against seven challengers.
MPR Photo/Tom Scheck

At a rally at the Paul and Shelia Wellstone Center for Community Building on St. Paul's west side, Franken summoned numerous Wellstone associations in the issues he highlighted and in choosing the late senator's son, David Wellstone, to introduce him.

David Wellstone told the rally that his father and Al Franken were great friends, and that Franken supports the same agenda that Paul Wellstone did.

"I've got the utmost respect for Al, and for him standing up for working folks. This is an exciting year," said Wellstone.

Franken spoke to about 200 supporters. The former "Saturday Night Live" comedian and liberal satirist mixed economic populism and Barack Obama-like demands for change in Washington with a stinging rebuke of Coleman's record.

Sen. Norm Coleman
Sen. Norm Coleman on his way into a fundraiser in St. Paul on Sep. 3, 2008 during the Republican National Convention.
MPR Photo/Mark Zdechlik

"Norm Coleman's not going to change Washington. Why would he?" Franken asked. "For Norm Coleman and his special interest friends, Bush's Washington has worked just dandy."

Franken coasted to a primary victory yesterday, defeating six DFL challengers including Priscilla Lord Faris, who ran numerous television ads.

A Coleman campaign spokesman who attended the Franken rally said Franken's primary victory should be considered a loss, because a little more than one-third of the DFL primary voters did not vote for Franken.

Coleman is back in Washington this week for the last few weeks of the congressional term. His campaign manager planned to hold an afternoon news conference to unveil several new TV commercials; the campaign promised the ads would "lay out a clear choice in the election."

Both campaigns have been on the air with TV ads for several months, the frequency of which is likely to only increase until Election Day. Both campaigns still have millions of dollars in campaign funds waiting to be spent, and much of that money will be spent on the ad wars.

Both campaigns indicated on Wednesday that they were likely to agree soon on a series of candidate debates, perhaps as many as four. Independence Party candidate Dean Barkley, who easily won his own primary on Tuesday, is likely to participate.