Republican Senate candidate Norm Coleman officially filed as a candidate to unseat DFL incumbent Paul Wellstone. And Coleman wasted no time drawing distinctions between the two on tax and spending issues. Coleman criticized Wellstone for obstructing attempts to ease the federal tax burden. The senator's camp fired back, saying Coleman had distorted Wellstone's record on the issue to gain political points.
Coleman wasted no time filing for the Senate race; he was greeted by Secretary of State and fellow Republican Mary Kiffmeyer just hours after the filing period opened.
The filing came just as Coleman wrapped up a press conference in which he drew comparisons between his own time as mayor of St. Paul and Paul Wellstone's two terms in the Senate. The GOP hopeful focused on taxes, and he painted Wellstone as an out-of-control spender who couldn't be trusted with the nation's pocketbook.
"We never raised property taxes during my eight years in office. We saved St. Paul taxpayers over $3 million. The record shows that with 218 votes in support of higher taxes, Sen. Wellstone enjoys taxing individuals and business and inanimate objects and everything else -- the living as well as, by the way, the dead," Coleman said (Listen to news conference).
But Wellstone staffers bristle at that characterization. A campaign spokesman says many of the votes cited by Coleman are taken out of context. For example, the Coleman camp criticized Wellstone for voting against a proposal to double the child tax credit from $500 to $1,000. But the Wellstone camp says the vote in question was actually a vote against President Bush's comprehensive $1.3 trillion tax cut package enacted last year.
The spokesman says Wellstone would have supported the child tax credit if it hadn't been laden with other tax cuts the senator found objectionable. Wellstone characterized the Coleman press conference as so much negativism.
"Every charge they've made is without any foundation. It's just ridiculous. So I just have to stay in the positive. You think people would learn by now. I'll just stay in the positive and let them go with the negative. And I think we'll probably win that way," Wellstone said.
Coleman also singled out the estate tax, known by opponents as the "death tax" for taking a bite out of what the deceased can leave to their heirs. Wellstone says he supports repealing the tax for farmers and small businesses, but couldn't vote in favor of a complete repeal. Coleman says that shows Wellstone isn't serious about addressing the issue at any level.
Dan Hofrenning, who chairs the political science department at St. Olaf College in Northfield, says the issue is shaping up as a debate between targeting tax cuts to lower- and middle-income families -- as Wellstone favors -- or providing across-the-board cuts so that all who pay taxes see some relief -- the approach Coleman has pushed.
"I don't think it's settled. I think we'll have to see how the candidates present those arguments, how persuasively they present them. And the voters will have to make a judgement in terms of which policy and which person they want to move forward in the United States Senate," he said.
Coleman says under current circumstances, he can't imagine a need to raise taxes -- but he stopped short of taking a strict no-new-taxes pledge.
"I'm prepared to be vigorous," Coleman said. "I'm not prepared to be dogmatic in a sense that if we're at a time of war and we need to defend this country that something -- that we have to do something -- I'll do that. But I start in with a really firm resolve. Leave it at that. I have a firm resolve about taxes."
A representative of the Taxpayers League of Minnesota says he's comfortable with Coleman's comments. The League has been pushing candidate to swear off any tax increases. But the spokesman says he's confident Coleman wouldn't break a pledge except under extraordinary circumstances.More from MPR