Coleman says he'll pull negative ads to focus on economy

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Sen. Norm Coleman
U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman said he will suspend all negative ads in his re-election campaign due to the economic crisis. He is in a tight race with DFLer Al Franken and IP candidate Dean Barkley.
MPR Photo/Tim Pugmire

If you've been anywhere near a television in recent months, you've seen ads for the U.S. Senate race. Incumbent Republican Norm Coleman has been slamming Democrat Al Franken, and Al Franken has been slamming Norm Coleman.

But with just over three weeks left in the campaign, Coleman announced he's pulling the plug on all of his negative ads.

Coleman says voters are being bombarded daily by negative messages about the stock market and job losses. He says they need hope, not more negativity.

Al Franken
DFL Senate candidate Al Franken said Coleman's announcement that he's suspending negative campaign ads is a stunt and a "cynical ploy."
Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images

"It's a rule of thumb on both sides of the political aisle that negative ads work. I'm willing to put that theory to a test, and trust the higher standards of the people of Minnesota," said Coleman. "Like the vote I took last week on the financial stabilization plan. If this move costs me the election, I can live with that."

Coleman said he'll make a good faith effort to remove the negative ads that he controls. He said he will also suggest independent groups that run ads on his behalf do the same.

A check of the Twin Cities TV stations shows that several pro-Coleman groups have reserved ad time. They include Republicans Who Care, the National Republican Senatorial Committee and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Coleman said he will still defend himself and make the case for re-election by using issue-based ads. But he said he won't criticize Al Franken.

"I will respond to attacks by talking about my record. I will talk about my record in positive ads," said Coleman. "I'm not going to do anything that plays into the fear and the anger that I think is right now at a very dangerous level in this country.

"I think they're worried that their negative campaigns are driving people to me."

Coleman said he decided to skip Republican presidential candidate John McCain's town hall meeting today in Lakeville, in order to implement his new advertising strategy.

Al Franken's campaign issued a harsh response to the Coleman announcement, calling it a "stunt" and "a cynical ploy."

Franken spokeswoman Colleen Murray said Coleman wants to change the subject after recent polls showed Minnesotans are sick of his campaign approach.

"I think it's fair to run on a candidate's plans and records. And we're proud of the campaign we've run, fighting for the middle class," said Murray. "And we're going to continue to talk about the change that Al Franken is going to bring to Washington as soon as he's elected senator."

An MPR news/University of Minnesota Humphrey Instutute poll this week found likely Minnesota voters blame Coleman rather than Franken -- by a more than two-to-one margin -- for the negative tone of the ads. And four in 10 told pollsters they're less likely to vote for the negative candidate.

Franken is also getting outside help to criticize Coleman. Independent groups running ads on his behalf include the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, American Rights at Work, and the Alliance for a Better Minnesota.

Independence Party candidate Dean Barkley isn't running TV ads, but he said Minnesotans need a break from the Coleman and Franken ads. Barkley also speculated that his campaign was a factor in Coleman's decision.

"I've got a feeling that his polling is showing that I'm getting stronger and stronger, that I've got momentum going now," Barkley said. "I've gone from 8 percent to 14 percent to 19 percent. I think they're worried that their negative campaigns are driving people to me."

In addition to discussing his campaign ad strategy, Sen. Coleman used his news conference to strongly deny recent allegations made by bloggers that he had received expensive suits from a campaign donor. Coleman described the claim as baseless.

"Nobody except my wife or me buy my suits," Coleman said.

Coleman added that he has reported any gifts from friends that met the reporting requirements under Senate ethics rules.