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With five days to go, Senate race gets curiouser and curiouser

With only five more mudslinging days left before Election Day, rumors are getting juicier, and the activities of pols and media are getting curiouser.

Perhaps one of the stranger moments in Minnesota's U.S. Senate race came at the Capitol this morning, when Sen. Norm Coleman's campaign announced that it was going to file an unfair campaign practices lawsuit against Al Franken, the DFL's challenger in the race.

Essentially, what the Coleman staff seemed to be saying is that it's NOT TRUE that Coleman is the fourth-most-corrupt person in the U.S. Senate.

Hmmm. Is that something to be celebrated?

Anyhow, the complaint is based on radio and television ads that the Franken campaign has been running since Oct. 25 that claim Coleman is the fourth-most-corrupt senator. That claim is based on the rankings of an organization called Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), which bills itself as nonpartisan.

The Coleman campaign disputes that nonpartisan claim, saying that members of the CREW board have been major supporters of the Franken campaign.  CREW was described by Coleman supporters as "a front group'' for Franken. And the fact that several Democrats are named on the list was "just window-dressing.''


Additionally, the Coleman campaign claims that CREW's rankings never state that he is the fourth-most-corrupt senator.

Hang on there. This gets weirder.

So what does CREW claim? After naming its 20 most corrupt members of Congress —  a list that includes six Democrats and 14 Republicans — it lists Coleman among four members of Congress who deserve "dishonorable mention.''

Is this really what the Coleman campaign wants to talk about in the final days of the campaign?

The DFL claims that it's reasonable to rank Coleman the fourth-most-corrupt senator using the CREW list.

"Just do the math,'' said DFL spokesman John Stiles. Stiles noted there are three senators on the top 20 list of most corrupt — Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska and  Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-Lousiana. Coleman is the only Senate member on the "dishonorable'' list.

In its complaint, Republicans say that even CREW's claims are misrepresented in Franken's ads.

"Without assigning any legitimacy whatsoever to CREW or CREW's claims, while the organization did mention Senator Coleman to criticize him for renting a basement bedroom, CREW did not claim that Sen. Coleman is "living almost rent free.''

The ad claims that Coleman, who is paying $600 a month to live in an apartment in a home owned by a friend and political consultant, is "living almost rent free.''

The very fact that the Coleman campaign was making a big deal of this "untruth'' just seemed to bring up stuff that you would think the Coleman campaign would want left swept under the rug for the duration of the campaign.

For example, bringing up this subject of his rent induced reporters to ask the Coleman campaign old questions about who pays the utility bills at the apartment.

Reporter question to Mark Drake, a spokesman for the Coleman campaign: "Who pays the utility bills?''

Drake: "This has all been dealt with months ago."

Several reporters: "No, it hasn't!''

Drake: "No?''

Reporter: "You said you would get us records of the utility bills and you never did.''

Drake: "I'll see what I can do.''

Drake kept wanting to take the subject back to the fourth-most-corrupt business.

"Three weeks after Sen. Coleman pulled down all negative ads, not only has Franken not done the same, there's this ad, which he knows is false,'' Drake said.

But reporters kept broadening the question.

For example, there are other charges in the commercial: that Coleman has taken $600,000 in campaign money from "big oil'' and that he's taken more than 50 trips, thanks to the generosity of various interest groups.

If the campaign is charging only that Coleman's not the fourth-most-corrupt, are we to believe the other charges are true?  Drake wrote those charges off as classic campaign "half-truths.''

More head scratching among reporters.

The suit will be filed, Drake said, and it will be up to the Office of Administrative Hearings to make a decision about whether the ad violates Minnesota law.

DFLers weren't caught by surprise by the suit. It had a handout sheet for reporters pointing out that Coleman has made a habit of filing similar suits in the last days of his previous campaigns.

In 1998, in his gubernatorial race, Coleman filed a complaint against his DFL opponent, Skip Humphrey. Both Coleman and Humphrey lost, to Jesse Ventura, and Coleman dropped the suit.

In 2002, Coleman filed a complaint against Sen. Paul Wellstone for "distorting'' Coleman's position on Social Security. That complaint was dropped following Wellstone's death.

But this time, Drake seemed to indicate, Coleman is going to war over being called the "fourth-most-corrupt'' member of the Senate.

This wasn't the only strange event of these last days of an ugly campaign. Today's news conference, in fact, was supposed to have been held Wednesday, but was postponed when Coleman was confronted by two Star Tribune reporters who were asking questions about a lawsuit filed in Texas that apparently questioned money Coleman's wife received from a friend.

That suit has been dropped, according to the Coleman campaign. No word on whether the Star Tribune is on verge of breaking a story.

Meantime, a Minneapolis lawyer is busily shopping unkind stories about the senator. So far, no takers, because there are no sources willing to go on record.

Now, we're down to the final five days in a race in which Franken says he's not a porn writer and Coleman argues he's not the fourth-mos- corrupt senator in Washington.  This thing still could get ugly.

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Comments (3)

This is odd. Is he suing CREW? If not, this appears to be politically motivated.

Nicely done! Very hard to cover all the twists and turns!

David,

The complaint is against the Franken campaign, I presume for misusing and misrepresenting the CREW report. (It may also question the legitimacy of using CREW as a source.)

This is very bizarre. I don't doubt the claims are questionable, but they hardly seem any more questionable than every other claim made on the campaign trail. In fact, these seem rather tame and pedestrian compared to others. Does that make them OK? Of course not. But it does raise questions of why the Coleman campaign would bring it up now, and what they honestly expect the courts to do about it (if anything).

Given his past history of filing similar claims just before an election (would love to see more about that), it seems like this is simply an attempt to public portray Coleman's opponent as a dishonest campaigner.