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Mondale, Coleman sprint to the finish

From Phil Hirschkorn

Former Democratic Vice President Walter Mondale, left, and Republican Norm Coleman
Former Democratic Vice President Walter Mondale, left, and Republican Norm Coleman

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ST. PAUL, Minnesota (CNN) -- Former Democratic Vice President Walter Mondale and Republican Norm Coleman began a televised debate Monday at 10 a.m. (11 a.m EST), just one day before voters go to the polls in the key Minnesota Senate race.

Moments after the debate started, Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura appointed independent Dean Barkley as interim U.S. senator to replace Democrat Paul Wellstone, who died in a plane crash October 25.

Mondale, the Democratic Party's substituted for Wellstone, is approaching the end of a five-day campaign, substituting for Wellstone.

Two newspaper polls showed the candidates in a neck-and-neck race. A Minneapolis Star-Tribune Poll published Sunday showed 46 percent of voters preferred Mondale and 41 percent supported Coleman. However, a St. Paul Pioneer Press Poll found almost the reverse -- 47 percent of Minnesotans supporting Coleman and 41 percent supporting Mondale.

Mondale inherited a tight race with Coleman, the former mayor of St. Paul, who got a boost this weekend from visits by President Bush and first lady Laura Bush.

Mondale is campaigning by bus, reintroducing himself to voters, many of whom haven't seen him on the ballot since he ran for president in 1984, and lost every state except his own to Ronald Reagan.

Having served as state attorney general, U.S. senator and vice president under Jimmy Carter, 74-year-old Mondale is the elder statesman of Minnesota politics.

"I'm asking you now one more time to give it all you got and give in that extra edge and get the people out and let's set America on a solid future," Mondale told supporters this weekend in Duluth.

"I'm asking for your help to build a future that Paul Wellstone would have liked to have seen," Mondale said.

In an interview with CNN, he described the circumstances that brought him out of retirement as "tragic and demanding." Though he has pledged to serve only one term, Mondale said his years of experience in the nation's capital will benefit his constituents.

"I know the rules. I know how to get things done there," Mondale told supporters, adding that his seniority would guarantee him a slot in Senate leadership.

Mondale articulates standard Democratic themes -- fairer trade laws, protecting the environment, delivering prescription drug benefits to seniors, supporting abortion rights and attacking business malfeasance.

Like Wellstone, and unlike the majority of Democratic Senate incumbents, Mondale opposes the resolution that authorizes Bush to use military force in Iraq.

"We don't go it alone. We go with everybody," said Mondale, who served as U.S. ambassador to Japan during the first term of the Clinton administration.

Mondale wants to roll back Bush's 2001 $1.3 trillion income tax cut -- he has said the richest 1 percent of the nation took home 40 percent of the cut's benefits. The resulting revenue loss, he's said, has caused the new federal budget deficit.

Coleman, who supported the Iraq war resolution, disagrees with Mondale on tax policy.

"Those folks who think you grow jobs by raising taxes, or you cut the deficit by raising taxes, are simply wrong," Coleman told supporters in Albert Lea, about 100 miles south of Minneapolis, this weekend. "That's not the way you do it."

During his eight years as mayor, Coleman never raised taxes in St. Paul. More than 18,000 jobs were created during his tenure, which coincided with a time of unparalleled national prosperity. He lured back a National Hockey League franchise and instituted one of the nation's first charter schools.

Coleman predicted that sympathy from voters over Wellstone's death will not result in a Mondale victory. "In the end, I think we all have sympathy, but I think the voters are going to be much more pragmatic. Who's going to be representing our future in the 21st century in the U.S. Senate? I think the vice president has yet to make his case," Coleman told CNN.

Coleman, who has flown more than 3,000 miles since Wednesday's memorial service for Wellstone, will end his campaign Monday by leaving the debate site in St. Paul and spreading his message via an overnight bus tour. The tour will make two dozen stops before ending Tuesday morning back in St. Paul, where he will vote.

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