ST. PAUL (AP) -- Democrat Mark Dayton sought to clarify his position on gun control Friday, and Sen. Rod Grams launched a "Common Sense" bus tour as Minnesota's Senate race sped toward the finish line.
The campaigns merged when the candidates met for a 90-minute debate on Twin Cities Public Television's "Almanac" program. They were joined by James Gibson of the Independence Party, who spent the day on a southern Minnesota swing.
Campaign finance, social security, affirmative action and hate crimes laws provoked sharp exchanges among the trio, but broke little new ground not covered in 13 previous debates.
For the second consecutive night, gun control was a hot topic. Dayton also tried to address the issue earlier in the day at a St. Paul high school, where he served lunch and spoke to a civics class.
In both appearances, Dayton denied Grams' allegations that he has waffled over whether the federal government should require licensing and registration of firearms.
"I do not support licensing," Dayton said. "I think it's impractical, and according to law enforcement officials that I've talked to, they believe it's not going to be effective in terms of crime control."
On creating a gun register, Dayton said he "would look at registration of new handguns if it were part of a national system that would keep those weapons out of the hands of criminals."
At the debate, Grams pointed out that Dayton expressed support for both measures in two questionnaires. Grams resists efforts to register guns because he argues it would permit the government to create a government log of gun owners.
But Grams' critique of Dayton's gun stance during the debate was toned down from that he gave on the stump.
"He'll say one thing in southern Minnesota, another in the metro area and another in northern Minnesota," Grams said in Winona. "This is a guy who's willing to say anything, be anything, be anybody to win a U.S. Senate seat."
The Winona stop was part of a three-day bus tour planned by Grams. He kicked it off in Red Wing, addressing about 30 Republicans on a grassy hill overlooking the Mississippi River.
"How many of you believe this Senate seat should be up for sale?" Grams shouted, as his audience braced against fierce winds.
Grams said he expected Dayton to spend about $20 million on the campaign. As of earlier this week, Dayton had put about $11 million of his own money into the race. Grams has spent about $6.25 million so far.
But during the debate, it was Gibson who hammered Dayton the hardest on his spending. Gibson accused Dayton of "being willing to put your personal ambition above the democratic process."
Dayton didn't take the criticism lightly. The former state auditor and agency commissioner said Gibson, who is seeking office for the first time, fails to recognize that he has paid his dues.
"You haven't been part of the governing process in Minnesota for the last 25 years as I have been," Dayton said. "I have earned this and I have worked for it."
Grams also promoted his record of government service throughout the day and he found receptive crowds.
Phyllis Herman, who owns a small corn and soybean farm near Lake City, gave Grams a hug and spoke with him for about five minutes about ethanol and other issues.
She said Grams has done a good job and deserves another six years, Herman said. "Why throw out something we know is good?" she asked.
A minor traffic accident delayed Grams' bus in Rochester, but it also produced a funny moment when Grams tried to recruit the driver whose car collided with the bus.
"We'll stay here as long as we have to to get your vote," Grams told Lewis Roessler, 81.
Roessler told Grams that he is a strict union man and was leaning toward Dayton. Still, if Grams fixed his 1991 Lincoln Town Car, he said he might change his mind.
"He said he was going to fix the Lincoln up," Roessler joked. Grams continued his campaign swing in a van.
On the Net:
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.