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Issues big, small for Coleman race

State Capitol Bureau ST. PAUL - When Democrat Al Franken earlier this year described some of Sen.

Norm Coleman

State Capitol Bureau

ST. PAUL - When Democrat Al Franken earlier this year described some of Sen. Norm Coleman's work as "small bore," the Republican shot back.

His campaign released a radio commercial featuring Walker's mayor talking about the importance of Coleman's work for the northern Minnesota town.

More recently, the senator used Minnesotans in ads to describe how he helped them through their problems - easing a couple's adoption process and pushing for childhood cancer research, for instance.

As Coleman campaigns for a second six-year Senate term, he talks just as much about his work on relatively minor issues as he does about how he has been right on big issues such as the economy and the Iraq war.

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As it has been throughout his elective career, Coleman's main message remains that he is principled and practical.

"I don't have all the answers, but I have a record of service of lifting people up with hope and out of despair," Coleman said, citing his work for farmers hurt by natural disasters and efforts to revitalize St. Paul. "We did it the Minnesota way, reaching across the aisle to get it done. We need those skills more than ever."

Coleman finds himself in a close race against Franken, who has tried to pin Coleman to the unpopular Bush administration and Republican policies even as the senator claims he has a track record of being independent.

Coleman, a former Democrat and two-term St. Paul mayor, is familiar with grueling campaigns.

His 2002 Senate race against Democratic Sen. Paul Wellstone was close when Wellstone was killed in a plane crash late in the campaign. Coleman went on to beat former Vice President Walter Mondale.

Now Coleman finds himself in another tight contest and with political winds favoring Democrats, largely because of the economy.

His opponents fault him for being part of a Congress that stood by as economic conditions worsened in recent years.

"You were there for six years," Independence Party candidate Dean Barkley told Coleman recently. "This is on your lap."

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No matter what Coleman says as he campaigns, he was a "cheerleader" for the Bush war and economic policies, Franken said.

The senator said it is not that simple. He has sided with the Bush administration on judicial appointments and some economic policies, but opposed the administration on others, including agriculture legislation that benefited farmers in his home state.

"I vote for Minnesota," he said.

Norm Coleman

- Party: Republican

- Age: 59

- Home: St. Paul

- Occupation: Senator, former state attorney

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- Political experience: Elected to Senate in 2002; ran unsuccessfully for governor in 1998; St. Paul mayor for two terms; switched from Democrat to Republican in 1996 while mayor

- Education: Hofstra University; University of Iowa law school

- Family: Wife, Laurie; two grown children

Wente works for Forum Communications Co., which owns The Forum. He can be reached at (651) 290-0707 or swente@forumcomm.com

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