ROCHESTER -- In the third Senate debate in a week, candidates mostly kept the gloves on as they differed on issues ranging from farm concentration to corporate reforms.
Republican Norm Coleman worked hardest to pack his answers to questions from journalists and the public with criticism of Democratic Sen. Paul Wellstone, continually questioning the incumbent's effectiveness.
But the debate's structured format, one-minute answers from each of the four candidates, limited clashes. Independence Party candidate Jim Moore and the Green Party's Ray Tricomo also appeared in the debate, the first time the four have appeared together.
Asked about gun control related to the East Coast sniper attacks, each of the men said they were in favor of forming a database of weapons ballistics to make tracking of guns used in crimes easier, though all said they're concerned privacy of gun owners be protected.
Said Coleman: "If we can find a better way to track bad guys, that's a good thing." Speaking more generally, Tricomo said America must raise its male children differently to avoid a "John Wayne society."
The debate was held before 1,200 on the University of Minnesota's Rochester campus. It was sponsored by the League of Women Voters and media outlets.
Asked about consolidation in the meatpacking industry, Coleman said the Clinton Administration didn't pursue antitrust cases vigorously while Wellstone used the topic to bash Coleman's contributors. "The difference is, I don't receive a couple of hundred-thousand dollars from these big agriculture conglomerates," he said.
Throughout the debate, Tricomo's answers put him to the left of Wellstone. For example, he called for reforming corporate structures so employees elect their CEOs, said he'd work to pass the Equal Rights Amendment for women, repeal the Bush tax breaks and pay for a universal health care system through "a fundamental redistribution of wealth in this country."
The candidates also differed on ideas for corporate reforms. Wellstone said the first thing he'd like to do is "fire Harvey Pitt," head of the Securities and Exchange Commission, who he said hasn't been enforcing laws.
Coleman said that, while he'd like to see wrongdoers punished and their ill-gotten gains confiscated, the focus should be on promoting good businesses. "Get the bad guys but don't, don't, don't trash all businesses," he said.
Coleman found himself alone in support of President Bush on the question of war with Iraq. Moore said Bush "jumped the gun on this one," and should work with the United Nations. Tricomo called the idea of war "dead on arrival" and Wellstone said military action should occur only after working through the United Nations and pursuing military disarmament
On closing, Wellstone described himself as an independent watchdog who will protect pensions, stop oil drilling in national parks, defend Social Security and work for prescription drug coverage.
Coleman said if he were in office, a drug package would already have been passed. He said that, unlike Wellstone, he'd work to expand trade and continue down the path of welfare reforms. "Who do you trust to get it done?" he asked.
Moore said he quit his job to run for Senate because he got tired of politics as usual and "30-second nasti-grams." He said reliance on foreign oil is the nation's top economic and national security threat.
Tricomo bemoaned the nation's "absolute societal breakdown" and said he'd put a "legitimate president in the White House."
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