Wellstone Gets Official Challenge in Minnesota Senate Race

Former St. Paul Mayor Norm Coleman officially launched his campaign for Senate on Monday as a new poll found him locked in a tie with Democratic incumbent Paul Wellstone.

The popular two-term mayor, who switched to the GOP from the Democratic Party in 1996, painted Wellstone as an obstructionist who "was never at the table when the partisan wrangling was cast aside and the job got done."

"It seems to me if an office holder can't get the job done in two terms, maybe they should think about moving on," Coleman said in his prepared remarks. "Minnesota's agenda in Washington is largely undone."

Coleman said he wants to cut business taxes, raise reimbursements to rural hospitals and secure the future of Social Security.

The poll, published Monday in the Star Tribune of Minneapolis, found Wellstone favored by 45 percent and Coleman by 44 percent. The Minnesota race is being watched closely in Washington because of the slight edge -- one vote -- the Democrats hold in the Senate.

Campaign managers for both candidates said the poll results are exactly what they expected.

"This is going to be a very, very close election; we all know that," said Jeff Blodgett, who works for Wellstone. "The last two (1990 and 1996) were also close, polls showed it neck-and-neck at the end, and we won both of them."

Ben Whitney, for Coleman, said the poll "shows what has been true for the last six or seven months, that (Wellstone) is very vulnerable and Norm Coleman is a very strong challenger."

The survey of 1,027 likely voters was conducted Feb. 2-6 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.