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Norm Coleman's Back-scratching Yes Vote to the Bailout Should Not Surprise Anyone in Minnesota

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Minnesota's Senate race has been receiving national attention since the nominees were announced. The Minnesota Senate race is also on pace to be the most expensive in state history and will be the one of the top three for the most expensive nationally. The stakes are high: for the Democratic challenger Al Franken it is a chance to help the Democrats regain a filibuster proof majority in the Senate and for the Republican incumbent Norm Coleman it is a chance for him to amass a larger role in the leadership of the Republican party.

For a long time, the hype and coverage of this race was prompted mainly by two factors. First, the Minnesota DFL party endorsed a celebrity turned DFL activist: former SNL writer and long time political comedian Al Franken. Second, because Minnesota is a major swing state in the presidential election the ebbs and flows of its moods could effect the nation as a whole.

Now there's a third factor bolstering the Midwestern race’s political coverage: the blunders of Republican Norm Coleman.

As the mayor of St. Paul from 1994 – 2002 and the state Senator since 2003, republicans and democrats alike might have presupposed that Coleman would be adept at the ins and outs of successful campaigning and political practices. Apparently not. Much like Giuliani, in his bid for the republican presidential nomination, who managed to change a promising lead into a cocktail joke with a horrendously run campaign, Norm Coleman is quietly managing to erase any inkling of a lead he once held over his DFL rival.

In the last few months, Franken has gone from 9 points behind to 4 points ahead. Sure, some of the swing can be attributed to the financial crisis and the Nation's subsequent aversion to all things Republican. But equally influential have been Coleman's ads and behavior. Most recently Coleman voted in favor of the government bailout of Wall Street. Some argue this should not be too surprising given Norm's propensity to favor tax breaks for oil companies and banking companies.

A webblog for Harper’s Magazine broke a story a few days ago that Norm Coleman received unaccounted for gifts (in the form of Neiman Marcus suits) from investment executive and friend Nasser Kazeminy. The friendship has long been a boon for Coleman, who frequently vacations and travels on Kazeminy's dime and personal plane. The problem this time is that the gifts do not appear to be accounted for which would be a Senatorial ethics violation.

Cullen Sheehan, Coleman's campaign manager, in a press conference on Wednesday refused to answer 'yes' or 'no' to reporters questions about suits, and instead repeated nine times that Senator Coleman 'reported every gift he has ever received.' Nine times (see for yourself).

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This refusal of a genuine response is particularly interesting when viewed against Coleman’s recent support of transparency. In September, a conversation about the Truth in Fur Labeling Act found Coleman saying, "Consumers have every right to be given full disclosure of what exactly it is they are purchasing. Transparency in the marketplace is essential."

Apparently that transparency applies to everyone except Norm Coleman.

Adding to Coleman's woes has been the groundswell against the incumbent's almost exclusive use of negative campaigning. Some may claim he had a right to point out some of Franken's satirical comedy in the past and some of his animated traits – but in a state synonymous with the word 'nice,' perhaps the relentless mean-hearted attacks weren't the wisest of moves.

A 9 point lead to a 4 point deficit. The numbers speak to the fact that Minnesotans are not only cognizant of Washington's handling of the economy, but they're looking for an 'honest' and 'nice' man to help lead the country forward. While some would argue those words aren’t exactly the selling points for Al Franken, Norm Coleman is doing all he can to make sure those adjectives have absolutely nothing to do with him. And thanks to the national coverage the race is receiving, that's a distinction voters aren't likely to forget before November.

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Ross works and eats in Minnesota.

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