Minnesota: Junior Senator|
Sen. Norm Coleman (R)
Last Updated July 14, 2003
Norm Coleman, a Republican, was elected to the Senate after a tumultuous and tragic campaign in 2002. Coleman grew up in a modest neighborhood in Brooklyn and graduated from James Madison High School; he shares that alma mater with New York Senator Charles Schumer and Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. He graduated from Hofstra University on Long Island and the University of Iowa law school. In 1975 he went to work in the attorney general's office in St. Paul and became chief prosecutor and solicitor general, working closely with DFL Attorney General Skip Humphrey. In 1989 he ran for mayor of St. Paul but withdrew after losing the DFL endorsement. In 1993 he ran again and won by challenging the DFL endorsee in the primary. During his mayoral tenure, Coleman was credited with leading a downtown revitalization that featured the return of a National Hockey League franchise to Minnesota, after persuading city and state officials to finance a new hockey arena. He boasted of attracting 18,000 new jobs and not raising property taxes for his last seven years. Coleman's opposition to abortion and his bargaining stance toward public employee unions made him many enemies among the liberals who dominate DFL precinct caucuses, and in December 1996 he switched to the Republican party; he has the unusual distinction of having served as the 1996 state co-chairman for Bill Clinton and the 2000 state chairman for George W. Bush. In 1997 he ran for reelection and defeated the DFL candidate, and became the first Republican mayor of St. Paul since 1960. In 1998 he ran for governor. He won the Republican nomination but finished second, behind Reform Party nominee Jesse Ventura, by a 37%-34% margin; but he ran ahead of his old boss, DFL nominee Skip Humphrey, who won only 28% of the vote. Coleman did not run for reelection in 2001, and was considering running for governor again. But George W. Bush called and asked him to run for the Senate, and in February 2002 he announced he was running against Senator Paul Wellstone. Coleman was spared serious primary opposition when Dick Cheney in April 2001 called state House Majority Leader Tim Pawlenty, just 90 minutes before he planned to announce his candidacy, and persuaded him to run for governor rather than senator.
Wellstone was first elected in a major upset in 1990, when he was a Carleton College political science professor; he had run unsuccessfully for state auditor and co-chaired Jesse Jackson's 1988 presidential campaign in the state. He had probably the most liberal voting record of any senator and delivered stirring orations on many issues. He characterized much of his work as defensive, blocking items on the conservative agenda. In his first campaign Wellstone promised to accept no PAC money or contributions over $100 and to serve only two terms. In 1996 he dropped the $100 limit and in January 2001 he announced he would run for a third term. Wellstone's greatest political asset was his authenticity: You might not like the positions he took, but you knew he did so sincerely and without regard to political consequences. Going back on his two-term promise evidently made him seem insincere to some voters, and polls showed him under 50% of the vote and with no great advantage against Coleman.
Coleman's strategy was to portray Wellstone as an obstructionist and himself as someone who gets things done; an attempt to make Wellstone's strength, his authenticity, into a weakness. Coleman took care to oppose George W. Bush on some issues: he opposed oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and favored an increase in the minimum wage. But he also called for making the 2001 tax cuts permanent, opposed Senate Democrats' union provisions in the homeland security bill and called for individual investment accounts for Social Security, though he ran an ad in October opposing "privatization." Wellstone, as always, campaigned as the tribune of the little guy, opposed to "Robin Hood in reverse" tax cuts. Using the fundraising system he had criticized in 1990, he raised more money than Coleman, though both campaigns were well-funded. After George W. Bush's speech to the United Nations September 12, Coleman came out in favor of authorizing military action in Iraq. Wellstone was opposed and favored action only with the approval of the United Nations. Polls showed the race exceedingly close.
On Friday, October 25, 11 days before the election, Wellstone, his wife and daughter and five others died in a plane crash in northern Minnesota. As the news became known about noon, Coleman suspended his campaign. Democrats gathered at Wellstone headquarters, including Edward Kennedy and Walter Mondale, who had been at a DFL fundraiser in Minneapolis and DFL gubernatorial nominee Roger Moe. Coleman after a meeting with supporters decided not to drop out of sight, as Missouri's John Ashcroft had done in October 2000 when his opponent died in a plane crash, but to participate publicly in the mourning process.
But behind the scenes, leaders of both parties were pondering what to do next, and understandably so: A Senate seat and perhaps a majority in the Senate were at stake. Minnesota has a law that allows parties to substitute a new nominee in these circumstances. On Saturday Wellstone's son David, his campaign treasurer Rick Kahn and his campaign manager met with Mondale and asked him to run. Mondale, though 74, was obviously the strongest candidate. He had been elected to the Senate by solid margins in 1966 and 1972 and after serving as Jimmy Carter's vice president had returned to Minnesota, run his 1984 presidential campaign from St. Paul and had been practicing law and serving on civic and charitable boards. He was widely respected by Minnesotans of all parties. Mondale declined to say he would run, and said he would not until after the funeral and memorial service, but let the Wellstone supporters tell reporters he was "highly likely to run."
Coleman and his advisers decided not to resume campaigning until after the memorial service, but to be ready to campaign vigorously beginning the morning after. Coleman would not attack Mondale, but speak respectfully of him, and campaign around the clock across the state as the candidate of 21st century ideas. In the meantime he would appear on TV and talk only about mourning. On Monday the Wellstones were buried after a private funeral. On Tuesday night, one week before the election, the memorial service was held at the Williams Arena at the University of Minnesota. It was broadcast statewide and across the country; most Minnesota voters were watching. Suddenly the memorial service turned into a campaign rally. Kahn spoke about Wellstone, then launched into campaigning. "We are begging you to help us win this election for Paul Wellstone," he thundered. He even called on Republican Congressman Jim Ramstad to endorse the Democrats. Many in the crowd of more than 20,000 booed Republican senators who had come to show their respect. Former Republican Congressman Vin Weber, watching on television, was repelled and e-mailed the Minneapolis Star Tribune, "What a complete, total, absolute sham. The DFL clearly intends to exploit Paul Wellstone's memory totally, completely and shamelessly for political gain. To them, Wellstone's death, apparently, was just another campaign event." His words appeared on the front page the next morning; that morning Wellstone's campaign manager apologized for the tone of the memorial.
Coleman boarded a plane at 6:15 the next morning to campaign around the state, while the DFL met and nominated Mondale. Mondale and his staff were amazed when DFL pollster Paul Harstad reported that an overnight survey had shown 73% of voters agreeing that the memorial service went overboard, with 52% agreeing strongly. Mondale's Sunday night lead of 52%-39% had vanished and the race was suddenly at 43%-43%. Seldom has political polling shown such an overnight shift. On Thursday, Coleman continued campaigning across the state while Mondale campaigned in Minneapolis. On Monday morning Mondale and Coleman appeared in their one televised debate. Coleman treated Mondale with great respect, always referring to him as Vice President, but aggressively argued that he was the candidate of the future. Mondale debated aggressively, referring to Coleman as Norman; he may have reflected the contempt DFL insiders have for Coleman as a party-switcher when he asked, "Who do you trust?" On the issues Mondale was clearly well-informed, but he sounded antique and abstract, while Coleman sounded contemporary and concrete. Afterwards, Coleman embarked on an 18-hour bus tour.
Coleman won 50%-47%, with a popular vote margin of 49,000; 11,000 absentee votes were counted for Wellstone. It was the first time Mondale had lost an election in Minnesota. This was a different Minnesota than the one that had reelected him to the Senate in 1972, 30 years before. In the Twin Cities core, Hennepin and Ramsey Counties, Mondale won 53%-44%. In the counties outside the Twin Cities media market, Mondale won 50%-46%; the city-based Coleman did not have as strong an appeal as George W. Bush had in 2000 in rural areas. But the different was the Ventura Belt, the counties in the Twin Cities media market beyond the core. In 1972 they had cast 481,000; in 2002 they cast 906,000, a rise of 88%. In 1972 Mondale had carried those counties 53%-47%. In 2002 Coleman carried them 56%-41%.
After the organizers of the Coleman-Mondale debate refused to invite the Independence and Green party candidates, Ventura angrily decided to appoint a replacement for Wellstone. He named Dean Barkley, who as the Reform candidate for senator in 1996 had won 7% of the vote, more than the 5% needed to keep the party on the ballot in 1998, when Ventura ran on its line. He was sworn in after the election and decided not to caucus with either party. On the homeland security bill, he cast a decisive vote against Wellstone's and Mark Dayton's amendment to bar agency contracts with companies that reincorporate overseas. He got a bill passed providing $10 million to build a Wellstone Center for Community Building in St. Paul, which provides help for immigrants.
After the election Coleman said he wanted to carry on Wellstone's work for health insurance for mental illness. He did not immediately support George W. Bush's 2003 tax cut proposals in January, but eventually displayed his loyalty.
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202-224-5641; Fax: 202-224-1152; Web site: coleman.senate.gov
||Norm Coleman (R)
|Walter Mondale (DFL)
||Norm Coleman (R)
|Jack Shepard (R)
||Paul Wellstone (DFL)
|Rudy Boschwitz (R)
|Dean Barkley (Ref)
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