ST. Paul, Minn. – Neither candidate threw any clear knockout punches in Monday's Minnesota Senate debate between Republican Norm Coleman and Democrat Walter Mondale.
Hitting heavily on corporate scandals, prescription drugs, war with Iraq, late-term abortions and federal judges, the two candidates seeking to replace the deceased Sen. Paul Wellstone did tug at one another's personal ties with special interests.
Mondale frequently accused Coleman of being a slave to corporate donors who have given money to Coleman's campaign in hopes of influencing future Senate votes. Coleman turned around and suggested Mondale wouldn't pass a terrorism insurance bill because he was a tool of trial lawyers.
"You've taken not thousands, but millions of dollars from the special interests, from the Enrons, the Worldcoms. You have walked the line. And I can be independent. I owe no one. I can go to Washington," Mondale said.
"Mr. Vice President, let me say very, very, very respectfully, when we talk about special interest and support from corporate America, that's been your world. That's the world in which you've lived ... The fact is, the vice president has served on the board of Cargill, served on board of Northwest Airlines and served on the board of CNA Insurance Agency, and that's not Paul Wellstone," Coleman responded.
Throughout the debate, Coleman, 53, maintained a polite and deferential tone, calling Mondale "Mr. Vice President." But he did attack Mondale for continuing a divisive tone in Washington that is not going to help get things done in the gridlocked Senate.
In turn, Mondale, 74, who referred to Coleman as "Norm," went on the offensive, saying that Coleman is a right-winger in moderate's clothing, particularly in his blanket support of President Bush's judicial nominees and his opposition to late-term abortions.
"What you're doing is sticking with the right wing and pretending to change the tone. It's not the fluff of what kind of word you say. And, Norm, we know you. We've seen you. We've seen you shift around," Mondale said.
Coleman defended himself, saying he would not sign off on every Bush policy, just because it is Republican policy.
"If I win on Tuesday, the president is going to owe me big time," Coleman said. "We walked through fire to get here."
He said that he parted with the president on such issues as re-starting trade with Cuba and opening Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife to oil drilling.
On policy matters, Coleman said he would rather take a flawed approach to prescription drugs and implement it for seniors immediately than wait for 100 percent of what he wanted at the risk of senior care, something he accused Democrats of doing in the Senate.
Mondale said that he would require collective bargaining in the new Homeland Security Department, a policy that Bush opposes.
"When I go back, I will be, if the public wants me there, I will be in the leadership at the first moment and be able to work on it. That's one of the first things we must do. But the administration must bend, too. What is wrong with allowing these employees to have civil service protection? I don't see any problem with that. And why shouldn't employees have some rights? In other words, this is not just saying, "yes," to everything the president wants. This is working out compromises that make a difference for our future."
Mondale, a former U.S. ambassador to Japan, also said that the United States should seek U.N. Security Council cooperation in making sure that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein complies with demands for disarmament.
As the two debated, Gov. Jesse Ventura announced his appointment of Independence Party member Dean Barkley as an interim senator to replace Wellstone, who was killed in a plane crash on Oct. 25.
Ventura said that he would have named a Democrat to replace Wellstone had organizers of Wellstone's memorial last week not turned the service into a political rally. He also expressed anger that Independence Party candidate Joe Moore was not allowed to participate in Monday's debate.
The length of Barkley's appointment is a matter of contention. Ventura said that he will serve until the next congressional session convenes, meaning Barkley will have a voice during Congress' lame duck session in November.
But elections analysts say Barkley may only serve until the race is certified, which could come as early as one week after the election, but could be delayed if the race is so close as to trigger a recount.
The debate was the only face to face meeting between Coleman and Mondale, who was nominated last week to replace Wellstone on the ballot.