Minn. Senate candidates mix it up in TV debate

Barkley, Franken, Coleman
U.S. Senate candidates Dean Barkley, Al Franken and Norm Coleman.
MPR Photo

Next week is the final full week of campaigning for Minnesota's U.S. Senate candidates. There will be one final debate one week from today at the Fitzgerald Theatre in downtown St. Paul.

Friday night Independence Party candidate Dean Barkley, Republican Senator Norm Coleman and DFLer Al Franken were in the studios of Twin Cities Public Television for another debate. In addition to more talk about the economy, the candidates confronted each other about misleading campaign tactics.

The public TV debate was much less formal than the previous three. There were no opening or closing statements, no time limits on answers and rebuttals. The format sought to get Dean Barkley, Norm Coleman and Al Franken engaging each other and that's exactly what happened following a question about misrepresentation.

Coleman accused Franken and national Democrats of misleading voters about how Congress ended up approving billions of dollars in incentives for energy companies.

"All the ads about big oil, he voted for tax breaks for big oil," Coleman said. "The tax breaks for big oil were contained in the Energy Act of 2005. Eighty-five senators voted for that. The reason this senator voted for it was because it contained the first renewable fuel standard which unleashed the renewable revolution in this state which we benefited from."

Coleman noted that even Barack Obama and then DFL Senator Mark Dayton, voted for the bill.

Franken accused Coleman and his side of wrongly trying to give voters the impression that he's against proving the elderly with help in paying for prescription drugs. Franken said he's been speaking out against the so-called Medicare Part D plan, because it did not include a provision that would have given the federal government authority to use it's buying power to negotiate lower drug prices with pharmaceutical companies.

"I am for a prescription drug program in Medicare in which medicare is allowed to negotiate on Medicare Part D that will bring down the price of drugs for seniors," Franken said.

Dean Barkley has largely been ignored in campaign advertising with the exception of new spot from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which Barkley said completely misrepresents his position on Social Security.

"Now your friends in the Democratic Senate committee are saying that I'm in favor of privatizing Social Security," Barkley said to Franken.

Franken said that they actually didn't say that.

"Well they used a word where they kind of hedged it a little but but they're lying," Barkley said.

Barkley said he does not support privitization and instead thinks the solution to future insolvency lies in raising Social Security taxes and or cutting benefits.

The candidates also weighed in the possibility of another economic stimulus package. None said he would support mailing out checks to Americans like this past summer.

"I'm not going to support another $300 billion," Coleman said. "If there were tax cuts for small business that would help grow jobs I'd support that."

Franken too promoted creating jobs.

"My mantra is 'Jobs Baby Jobs' and here are the things that I would do to keep the jobs we have and to create new jobs," Franken said. "One, build, build bridges and roads and schools."

Dean Barkley said the government has to stop spending so much money.

"When are we going to get a reality and stop pandering about what the federal government can do and start getting real about what we can't do," Barkley said. "We're broke."

The candidates also talked about partisanship and what each would do to get past it. Coleman said Barkley and Franken have only talked about working together and that he's the only one with a track record of working across party lines.

Franken and Barkley criticized Coleman for voting overwhelming with President Bush until Bush's popularity plummeted.

Barkley, Coleman and Franken will spend much of next week traveling around Minnesota in a last-ditch attempt to fire-up and widen their bases of supporters. They'll all be in downtown St. Paul next Sunday evening at the Fitzgerald Theater for the final debate of the campaign sponsored by Minnesota Public Radio News.