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Coleman plays prominent role in Bush campaign
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Coleman thanks volunteers at the Bush-Cheney headquarters in St. Paul. (MPR Photo/Laura McCallum )
Minnesota Sen. Norm Coleman will play a prominent role during next week's Republican National Convention in New York. Coleman is one of a handful of GOP elected officials who will run portions of the convention. The post is just the latest recognition for Coleman, who has taken a high profile role in the Bush campaign and in Republican fundraising around the country. Coleman says the visibility is good for Minnesota, but critics say it's also good for Coleman, and that he may already be eying his next political opportunity.

St. Paul, Minn. — Since he arrived in Washington two years ago, Norm Coleman has become a major player in President George W. Bush's reelection effort. The Washington Post reports that Coleman has raised at least $400,000 for the Republican Party during this election cycle. That makes him, in the Bush campaign's jargon, a "Super Ranger". When the president comes to Minnesota, as he has done four times this year, Coleman is usually by his side.

"I'm proud to be up here with a great United States Senator, Norman Coleman. I appreciate his service," Bush said at St. Paul's Xcel Energy Center last week.

Coleman has raised money for the Republican Party by appearing at events around the country and collecting money from contributors. Many of the events have been designed to woo Jewish voters to the GOP. Coleman said he's willing to do whatever he can for Bush's reelection effort because he believes in the president's leadership. Along with raising money, Coleman has been a campaign surrogate for the president. His television appearances this month have ranged from Comedy Central's "The Daily Show" to CNN's "Late Edition".

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Image Coleman chats with a young volunteer

"There's a lot of opportunities to be heard, and I'm certainly not shy about speaking out on behalf of the president," Coleman said. "So I anticipate doing that also during my time at the convention." Coleman also spoke out during the Democrats' convention, traveling to Boston to criticize presidential candidate John Kerry's record. Democrats say Coleman, who switched parties in 1996, is the last person who should be calling Kerry a flip-flopper.

"Ironically, he was part of a truth squad, and you know, somebody that wasn't too many years back was in New York at the Democratic National Convention to help support President Bill Clinton," said state DFL party chair Mike Erlandson.

Erlandson said Coleman should spend less time flying around the country and more time on Minnesota business. Erlandson noted that Coleman hasn't even been a senator for two years.

"I'm sure, in Sen. Coleman's mind, he's already looking for his next job in politics because he seems to quickly tire of the ones that he has," Erlandson said.

Minnesota's other U.S. senator, Democrat Mark Dayton, had even harsher words earlier this year. He said at the state DFL convention that Coleman has been President Bush's No. 1 cheerleader and apologist, and is trying to become the No. 1 bagman for the Republican Senate campaign committee.

Coleman acknowledged that after the election, he has a good chance of heading the campaign committee that raises money to elect Republicans to the Senate. But he said he's not thinking beyond his work in the Senate. He defended his fundraising activities, and said they haven't hindered his effectiveness as a senator. He said his ties to the Bush administration allow him to better serve Minnesota.

"I'm the 99th in seniority in the United States Senate. The runt of the litter," Coleman said. "On the other hand, I have the ability, I believe, to significantly impact a number of initiatives in this state, whether it's in the ag area, or whether it's in the housing area or across the board because of these relationships."

Coleman is one of the more prominent freshman senators, according to Albert Eisele, editor of The Hill. Eisele was Walter Mondale's press secretary when Mondale was vice president. Eisele said Coleman gained national attention for beating Mondale, a Democratic icon, and appears to be a rising star in the Republican party.

"He's a very good campaigner. He's very articulate, he's telegenic, photogenic, and he is the type of candidate I think who the party looks to to groom younger senators like that, younger figures," Eisele said. "Certainly he has a bright future, but he also has to demonstrate that he can play in the big leagues, and he can be a good senator, and I don't think he's had time quite to do that yet."

Eisele said given Coleman's close ties to the Bush administration, it wouldn't surprise him if Coleman's future includes a Cabinet post or higher office. But the flip side of Coleman's allegiance to the president could mean just as rapid a fall if Bush isn't reelected. Democrats will certainly point that out if Coleman runs for reelection and John Kerry is in the White House.

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