BAXTER - Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., emphasized his record of public service, criticized opponents and said the nation is facing serious challenges at an early Monday morning campaign stop at Culver's in Baxter.
"These are the most challenging, challenging times in my 32 years of service," he said.
The first-term senator made no mention of the federal government's bailout of the financial industry until a brief question-and-answer session that followed his comments.
He said last week's congressional vote was about small businesses and not just Wall Street. He said people don't pay cash for cars - they use credit and that car dealers in the Brainerd area need a source of credit in order to keep their employees on the payroll. He also referred to his two college-age children and said he would hate to tell them they couldn't go to college because of an inability to secure an education loan.
Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., greeted a crowd of nearly 100 supporters at Culver's Monday morning in Baxter. It was the first stop Monday in a six-city campaign swing that followed Sunday night's debate with his two opponents.
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"Credit is the grease to the wheels of the economy," he said.
Answering a reporter's question after the campaign stop, Coleman said that if the federal stabilization was handled well the federal government could benefit from the assets it was taking over.
Coleman said the campaign was about values, beliefs and trust and noted that he has visited the Brainerd area for years and has a cabin in the Backus-Hackensack area. It's important for an elected official to know and understand his constituents, he said.
"That's a fundamental difference in this race," he said.
One of the beliefs he said he acquired during the eight years he was St. Paul mayor, was the importance of keeping taxes low.
"You don't grow jobs by raising taxes," Coleman said.
He also said that every child is a gift from God and that the best thing that can happen to children is for their parents to have jobs. The incumbent senator called for every American to have access to health care but did not want a system similar to Canada's.
Coleman received applause from the crowd when he called for ending dependency on foreign oil.
"We're all for drilling," he said. "We've got to drill in places where we're not drilling right now."
Coleman said a senator not only has to articulate views but has to convince enough people to work with him so legislation is passed.
"I'm running against a guy ... there's not a single thing in his life to show the ability to get people together to solve a problem," he said in an apparent reference to his Democratic challenger, Al Franken.
Franken spokeswoman Colleen Murray responded to Coleman's statement Monday by noting Franken's efforts to secure helmet liners for Marines in Iraq.
"While Norm Coleman was in the Senate passing the buck on Iraq oversight and allowing companies like Halliburton to rip off taxpayers Al Franken sought to secure 40,000 new helmet liners for Marines in Iraq who desperately needed them. The fact is Norm Coleman is part of the problem, not part of the solution."
Coleman also jabbed at his Independence Party rival, Dean Barkley, who briefly filled out the term of Sen. Paul Wellstone, after the Democrat's death in a plane crash. He said for all of Barkley's talk about fiscal conservatism, he was awarded the "Porker of the Month" designation by the Citizens Against Government Waste.
Coleman said, after his campaign stop, that he didn't necessarily conclude that the tone of the Franken television ads and his own ads was the reason Barkley's poll numbers had been rising. He said that people were frustrated with government and that support for Barkley might be "a safe place to park" until voters make a final decision. He also said when Barkley left office as Minnesota's head of long-term planning the state was experiencing a large budget deficit.
Barkley's communications director, Christopher Truscott, said Monday the only federal funding Barkley secured for a Minnesota project while in the U.S. Senate was for the Paul and Sheila Wellstone Center for Community Building. Barkley had expressed the need for federal transportation funding but no opportunity arose for a vote.
Truscott said the deficit Gov. Tim Pawlenty inherited resulted because Pawlenty and others who were legislative leaders at the time rejected Gov. Jesse Ventura's plan to fix the shortfall.
Addressing the crowd of about 100 supporters, Coleman spoke of the need for a balanced approach to the energy crisis.
"I am passionate about the environment, about clean water," Coleman said. "You can be for clean water and for jobs."
Coleman said the Senate contest was a very tough race and noted the endorsement he recently received from former state Sen. Doug Johnson, DFL-Tower, was important.
"I can't win this race if I just get Republicans," he said.
Coleman was 40 minutes late at his Culver's campaign stop. His schedule called for subsequent stops at Grand Rapids, Bemidji, Roseau, Crookston and Moorhead.
MIKE O'ROURKE may be reached at email@example.com or 855-5860.
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