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Can Coleman "get it done?"
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Sen. Norm Coleman starts his first full week in the U.S. Senate Monday, where he will try to keep his campaign promise to "Get it done," despite the highly partisan tone in Washington. (MPR file photo)
Republican Norm Coleman begins his first full week as a U.S. senator Monday. The former St. Paul mayor campaigned for Senate on a "Get it done" theme, telling Minnesotans they should expect politicians to work together, regardless of party affiliation. Coleman faces many opportunities and challenges as he tries to keep that promise.

Washington, D.C. — For a freshman, Sen. Norm Coleman enters Washington remarkably well-connected. And it's not just his close ties to the Bush administration. The new Senate majority leader, Tennessee Republican Bill Frist, worked with the White House to persuade Coleman to run. He also headed the National Republican Senatorial Committee, and in that role Frist assisted the Coleman campaign from start to finish. Coleman says that will make a difference now that he's in the Senate.

"I'm in a very good position to do good things for my state and my country. We have a president who's a friend, I'm in the majority which is a good thing, and we have a Senate majority leader who is a friend," Coleman says. "So I think there's opportunity here. The challenge always is to convert opportunity to reality."

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Image His job is to keep Coleman focused

Coleman is on the Foreign Relations, Agriculture, Government Affairs and Small Business committees. He says the best advice he received when he was elected St. Paul mayor was to focus on a few primary areas. As mayor, he paid particular attention to increasing jobs and redeveloping the city's riverfront.

In Washington, Coleman says he will continue to focus on job creation. He says he'll look for ways to improve the relationship between state and local governments and the federal government. Coleman says he's also interested in rural development, national security and health care.

Al Eisele, publisher of The Hill, a weekly Washington newspaper about Congress, says Coleman is uniquely positioned as a new senator because of his connections on both ends of Pennsylvania Ave. Eisele says those friendships -- and the national spotlight that shined on Minnesota's Senate election following Paul Wellstone's death -- leave Coleman well known in Washington.

"He comes with a lot of attention paid to him because of the unusual and tragic circumstances under which he was elected -- and the fact that he beat a Democratic icon, Vice President Mondale -- so he's not coming here just as an ordinary freshman."

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Image DFL Sen. Mark Dayton

"When we walked through right after the election, when he and I would walk through downtown Washington D.C. -- not Capitol Hill -- people on the street were coming up and congratulating him and talking with him. He really has a high visibility," says Tom Mason, Coleman's chief of staff.

Despite his fame, Coleman says he will try to watch and listen early on in his Senate career and follow majority leader Frist's agenda, rather than establishing one of his own.

Tom Mason has 15 years of Washington experience. His resume includes positions with former Minnesota Republican Sen. Rudy Boschwitz and former South Dakota Sen. James Abdnor. Mason says it's his job to ensure Coleman focuses on priorities.

"There's an expertise that's required about knowing the Hill, knowing parliamentary procedure, knowing how the committees work, which is important," says Mason. "But the more important expertise is how to leverage your relationships, how to be able to find the phone call that says, 'OK, tell me what's really happening. What can we do? How can we get something done?'"

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Image Al Eisele

Already, Mason says he's been working with Democratic Sen. Mark Dayton's office. Coleman says his pledge to reach across party lines definitely applies to Minnesota's senior senator. Despite their ideological differences, Dayton predicts Coleman will do well in the Senate.

"We'll be working together on committees, and we'll be working on legislation that we can agree on. There will be times when we will disagree, and we'll do so," says Dayton. "But most of all, we need to make sure we're doing the best job we both can -- individually and together -- for Minnesota."

Al Eisele from The Hill says Coleman's pledge to change the tone in Washington is an impossible task, especially in the context of an upcoming presidential election.

"We're going into the 2004 election and the campaign has already started here. Bipartisanship lasts about one day, which is the first day of swearing-in, and it didn't hardly even last that long this time. You're going to see plenty of political warfare," Eisele says.

Coleman's still talking about getting things done. But he's beginning to temper the pledge, in acknowledgment of the political realities of his new job.

"I always worry. That's why I stay thin," Coleman says with a laugh. "We'll give it a shot and see if it works."

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