The three candidates for U.S. Senate talked about the economy, foreign policy and their favorite books and movies in a Saturday night debate that saw all three pitching their styles to their largest audience yet.
The meeting at Breck High School in Golden Valley was the first televised meeting of Republican Sen. Norm Coleman, Democrat Al Franken and the Independence Party's Dean Barkley. The debate saw plenty of discussion on the issues, but the candidates also used their first extended shot at a TV audience to stress the styles they hope will sway voters.
For Coleman, it was touting what he called a record of working to find bipartisan solutions in Washington.
"Bottom line is you've got to do something, you can't just sit in the cheap seats and look down and say I could do it better," Coleman said.
For Franken, it was a vow to put Minnesota's middle class above special interests.
"This election isn't about the three of us on the stage," he said. "It's about you, the people of Minnesota, who haven't been getting a fair shake from Washington."
Barkley said he offers voters an alternative to two major parties that both avoid unpopular choices to stay in power.
"We can start putting our country ahead of political parties," Barkley said.
All three candidates picked at one other's previously stated views, and Barkley's healthy third-place finish in recent polls apparently earned the attention of the front-runners as Coleman pointed out a potential hypocrisy in Barkley's constant criticism of Washington's deficit spending.
"Citizens Against Government Waste gave you the Porker of the Month Award," Coleman said, referring to Barkley's two-month stint as a U.S. senator after he was appointed by then-Gov. Jesse Ventura. "I say that in that you just can't talk about what you'll do."
Barkley said he earned the distinction because of his support for a commuter rail project.
"I'm honored that I'm starting to get attacked. I was wondering when I was going to," Barkley said.
Debate over the war in Iraq filled a fair
amount of time in the 90-minute debate, with Franken and Barkley both slamming Coleman repeatedly over his support for the war.
"How you can still say that this war was the right thing to do is beyond me," Franken said to Coleman.
Franken and Barkley both supported an immediate start to withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. Coleman said he'd defer to the recommendations of military leaders.
The debate came a day after Coleman pledged to halt negative advertising by his campaign, a decision criticized as hypocritical by both Franken and Barkley. Coleman's decision didn't come up in the debate, but the event was largely free of personal attacks as the candidates dwelled more on criticisms of each other's stance on issues.
Franken and Coleman chatted amiably during one short break, and Franken even filled Coleman's water glass at one point.
At the end of the debate the candidates took questions from the audience. One questioner asked which work of art had most influenced the candidates' political views.
Coleman said it was the book "Profiles in Courage" by John F. Kennedy, which he said taught him that leadership was about courage.
Franken cited the book "A Bright Shining Lie" by Neil Sheehan, a scathing history of the Vietnam War that he said contains lessons that could be applied to Iraq.
Barkley said his was the movie "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington."
Coleman and Franken also both said they love
the movie "The Godfather."
KARE 11, kare11.com and Debate Minnesota co-hosted the debate. KARE 11's Mike Pomeranz, Julie Nelson served as moderators along with political editor DJ Tice from the Star Tribune.
There are three more debates between the Senate candidates, with the next scheduled for Thursday night in Duluth.
(Copyright 2008 by KARE and the Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)