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Wellstone, Coleman take off the gloves

FALCON HEIGHTS, Minn. -- Professional wrestling wasn't at the grandstand, nor was Jerry Springer, but Minnesota State Fair visitors may have mistaken a senatorial debate for one of the more raucous entertainment fares.

FALCON HEIGHTS, Minn. -- Professional wrestling wasn't at the grandstand, nor was Jerry Springer, but Minnesota State Fair visitors may have mistaken a senatorial debate for one of the more raucous entertainment fares.

Sen. Paul Wellstone and challenger Norm Coleman repeatedly interrupted each other and tried to get the last word on issues debated at the fair Friday. The normally sedate Minnesota Public Radio sounded more like a station airing an outrageous talk-show host.

The Independence Party's Jim Moore and Ed McGaa of the Green Party were relegated to bit players as Wellstone and Coleman did battle in their third debate.

The audience -- made up mostly of Coleman and Wellstone partisans -- cheered and booed most answers.

Coleman, a Republican, launched the first volley when he accused Wellstone of failing to support the first President Bush in the Gulf War.

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"The senator was wrong, wrong, wrong in the first Gulf war, which he opposed," Coleman said.

The next question, about affordable prescription drugs, brought a stronger lob from the challenger.

"People should be angry and they should be angry that

nothing has been done," he said. "The senator has been on the health committee 12 years -- 12 years. People are tired of (Wellstone) pointing fingers."

Coleman repeated his often-said line: "The senator is the most partisan person in the whole U.S. Senate."

Wellstone fired back Friday, after opening the debate season in early August saying he would not respond to many of Coleman's attacks.

The incumbent Democrat charged Coleman with changing his stance on issues, including whether assault weapons should be banned. On Friday, all four candidates favored the ban, although Coleman appeared to favor less stringent laws.

"Every Tom, Dick and Harry can carry a weapon," was how Wellstone characterized Coleman's stand.

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Wellstone also took issue with Coleman supporters on the estate tax. A group calling itself Americans for Job Security has said Wellstone supports taxing estates after a person dies.

However, Wellstone said, he has voted to exempt small family farms and businesses, as well as most individuals, from the taxes. He said the organization that is attacking him -- which hired an airplane to fly an anti-Wellstone banner over the State Fair -- will not reveal who funds its work.

The hottest exchange came when Wellstone asked Coleman why he said on a recent questionnaire that he supported overturning the U.S. Supreme Court decision that allows abortions.

At one point, Coleman was shouting his response as Wellstone tried to interrupt.

Once things calmed down, Coleman explained that he supports banning late-term abortions and for parents to be notified if a daughter plans an abortion.

"My 12-year-old daughter had her ears pierced the other day, and they called dad," Coleman said.

Coleman ended his abortion comments with another attack on the incumbent: "He will never seek common ground; that never is good for Minnesota."

Wellstone was critical of President Bush's plan to forbid some homeland security employees from joining unions. Coleman indicated he supports the plan.

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Federal postal workers are in unions, Wellstone said.

"Are the postal workers a threat to our national security?" he asked.

Wellstone said Coleman just doesn't get it.

Turning to Coleman, in front of about 300 fair-goers, Wellstone told the Republican: "If you are a candidate for the U.S. Senate, you need to understand the issues."

Readers can reach Forum reporter Don Davis at (651) 290-0707

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