ST. PAUL -- Minnesota's Senate candidates engaged in a semantic battle Friday, clashing over whether a plan to let younger workers invest part of their Social Security taxes in stocks is the same as "privatizing" the system.
Democratic U.S. Sen. Paul Wellstone accused his Republican opponent, Norm Coleman, of being misleading about his own stance in a new ad. Coleman aides countered that Wellstone is manipulating the issue in a bid to scare seniors.
In the ad, a message to seniors in which Coleman talks about his father, he says: "I don't support privatizing Social Security and I'll fight against anybody who would do that."
Wellstone on Friday brandished past statements by Coleman in which the former St. Paul mayor discusses his support for plans, including one backed by President Bush, described as "partial privatization."
"Now we have an ad on television in which my opponent tells people he is against what he is clearly for," Wellstone said. "This is not a word game. This is an issue that affects 730,000 Minnesotans," referring to the number of current Social Security recipients.
Coleman's spokesman, Kurt Zellers, said Coleman isn't being misleading in the ad because he defines "privatizing" as taking money directly out of the Social Security system.
"He doesn't support that," Zellers said. "He supports voluntary personal retirement accounts within the system."
Zellers said he could not say whether Coleman supports plans to let future recipients direct investments into the stock market through such personal retirement accounts. "The design of the accounts is up for Congress to decide," Zellers said.
When Coleman led Bush's election effort in Minnesota, however, Coleman defended Bush's plan to let the accounts be invested in stocks.
In July of 2002, Coleman told The Associated Press: "If there are ways for individuals to be able to invest some of their resources prudently and responsibly and in a way which doesn't undercut existing resources, then I think you got to look at that."
Much of the dispute centers on the word "privatization." Since the stock market has devoured many retirement portfolios, campaign strategists have advised avoiding the word.
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