Minnesota's rocky U.S. Senate race tumbled toward an ugly end Saturday with Republican Sen. Norm Coleman and Democrat Al Franken rallying their faithful while lobbing accusations at one another about late-emerging allegations regarding the incumbent.
Both men and their campaigns took time to address the issue, featured in a Texas lawsuit claiming a Coleman friend and donor used a Texas business to divert $75,000 to a company where senator's wife works, in order to enrich the Colemans.
Coleman's campaign began airing a television ad suggesting Franken's fingerprints were on the "eleventh hour attack," though they produced no evidence that was the case. Franken dismissed the charge as shameful and without merit.
The flap upended a closing weekend that the candidates filled with stops meant to fire up committed backers and inspire them to turn out undecided voters.
Coleman rolled through areas partial to Republicans, using multiple visits to cafes to tout his record and policy vision. Franken hit college campuses in Northfield, where he fired up crowds of students with his message of change and fighting for the middle class. A third candidate, the Independence Party's Dean Barkley, worked crowds at University of Minnesota sporting events.
While he didn't make direct references to the lawsuit in speeches at his morning stops, Coleman told reporters he and his wife were unfairly pulled into a business dispute. He maintained he doesn't know the plaintiff who made the allegations or about the purported scheme to channel money to him through his wife's company.
The allegedly improper payments are a small part of the multimillion-dollar lawsuit filed against Coleman supporter Nasser Kazeminy and several others.
Paul McKim, founder and former CEO of Houston-based Deep Marine Technology, claims that Kazeminy, a large shareholder, pressured the company to make payments to Minneapolis-based Hays Companies, which employs Laurie Coleman, who is a licensed insurance broker. McKim is a self-described Republican.
The Star Tribune reported late Friday that a second lawsuit had been filed in Delaware Chancery Court against Kazeminy making allegations similar to those in the Texas lawsuit. The paper reported that the lawsuit was filed by Deep Marine shareholders, and named McKim as a co-defendant. The plaintiffs' attorney did not respond to an e-mail Saturday from The Associated Press, and the firm's phone rang unanswered.
Coleman's campaign scrambled to put up a new TV commercial in which the Colemans sit side-by-side and the senator blames Franken. "My name is on the ballot. I'm fair game for his ugly smears. My wife and my family are not," Coleman says in the ad.
Despite requests, Coleman campaign manager Cullen Sheehan didn't produce hard evidence of Franken's involvement.
At a hastily arranged news conference, Franken said his campaign didn't know about the lawsuit and the underlying allegations until Star Tribune reporters publicly tried to question Coleman about it on Wednesday.
"We had nothing to do with this," Franken said. "I'm being blamed for crossing the line. I didn't do a thing and our campaign didn't do a thing."
The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is airing an ad referencing the lawsuit allegations, but Franken's campaign isn't permitted to coordinate ad strategy with the DSCC.
Franken did not mention the lawsuit or any of its allegations at either of his campaign stops on Saturday.
Polls have shown the race as a toss-up -- some having Franken barely on top and others with Coleman in the lead, but all with Barkley in the teens.
Winding down a three-week statewide tour that has hit more than 70 cities and covered 4,400 miles, Coleman urged his backers to put in extra effort in the final three days.
"It's your time, it's in your hands," he told supportive audiences throughout the Twin Cities suburbs.
John Alexander, a corporate trainer who talked to Coleman at the Morning Glory Cafe in Rosemount, said he thought the last-minute charges against the incumbent would help rally support for Coleman. Alexander, who confessed his wife is a Franken backer, said he signed up 52 volunteers to help Coleman get out the vote.
"We're not going to let you lose," he told the senator.
Franken held separate rallies at St. Olaf and Carleton College in Northfield, where he was joined by David Wellstone, son of the late Sen. Paul Wellstone who taught at Carleton.
"Paul Wellstone said the future belongs to those who are passionate and work hard," Franken said. "I am so passionate about being a voice for five million Minnesotans who haven't had one in
Alec Irwin, a computer programmer from Dundas and Franken supporter, said at the St. Olaf event that he thinks a high voter turnout among young people on Tuesday would help push Franken over the top.
"I'm feeling pretty good about things," Irwin said.
Barkley marched Saturday morning in the homecoming parade of his alma mater, the University of Minnesota. After that he commandeered a corner in front of the Metrodome before the game, surrounded by six supporters hoisting Barkley signs.
"There's a ton of undecided voters left, and I think many who haven't made up their mind for sure," Barkley said. "If enough swing toward me at the last minute, I win."
The three candidates meet Sunday night at St. Paul's Fitzgerald Theater for their final debate.
(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)