- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 3, 2002

ST. PAUL, Minn. Republican Norm Coleman, attracting much bigger crowds, and former Vice President Walter F. Mondale battled it out yesterday in a pivotal U.S. Senate race that both sides now say is neck-and-neck.
Mr. Coleman apparently failed in his attempt to draw his Democratic opponent into at least one prime-time TV debate before Tuesday's elections. Instead, the two rivals will meet in a 60-minute radio debate at 10 a.m. tomorrow before an audience, sponsored by National Public Radio and Channel 11. TV stations that wish to broadcast it live or delayed may do so.
But the unusual timing and arrangement means that most voters will not hear, let alone see, how the 74-year-old Mr. Mondale, who has been out of active politics for nearly a quarter of a century, compares to the younger Mr. Coleman, a former St. Paul mayor.
With two days left before voters go to the polls, the contrast between the two Senate candidates could not be sharper. Mr. Coleman has been flying around the state, logging well over 2,000 miles in just the past three days, visiting 16 cities, and participating in a TV debate Friday that Mr. Mondale did not attend.
Mr. Mondale, by contrast, has been traveling more slowly by chartered bus through the northern part of the state and has largely confined himself to quiet, well-attended town meetings to "reintroduce myself to the voters."
"It may not be an efficient way to do it, but it's an effective way to reintroduce yourself to the people of Minnesota," said James Manley, a spokesman for the Mondale campaign.
Mr. Manley denied Republican charges that Mr. Mondale has resisted a prime-time TV debate for tactical reasons to avoid the rough and tumble and unpredictability of an evening debate that would have been seen by hundreds of thousands of viewers.
"He's not trying to run out the clock or anything like that," he said.
Meantime, there was continuing anecdotal evidence that the Mondale campaign was set back much more than originally suspected by last week's memorial service for the late Sen. Paul Wellstone that Democrats turned into a boisterous political rally.
Mr. Coleman has been drawing sizeable crowds as he has crisscrossed the state. In Hermantown, near Duluth, some 2,000 people turned out for a rally Friday where Vice President Richard B. Cheney told the crowd, "We need more leaders in Washington to work with us and not against us."
"The crowds have been both three and four times what you normally get in Minnesota. We're getting turnouts of 300 and 600 people in small towns," said Ben Whitney, Mr. Coleman's campaign manager.
The day after Mr. Wellstone's memorial service, Mr. Whitney said that when he arrived at Coleman headquarters that morning, "a crowd of people were lined up outside and had their checkbooks out. That very night, right after the service, six Democrats came over here and said they wanted to volunteer."
"My wife works in an office with people who are all Democrats and they told her that they were so offended by that service that they are going to vote for Coleman," said a volunteer at Coleman headquarters here.
The Mondale campaign continues to express remorse over the memorial. Asked if it has hurt Mr. Mondale with voters, Mr. Manley said yesterday, "Well, ultimately we'll find out Tuesday. In a certain sense, it might have been an unnecessary diversion. But no, it didn't hurt him."
Nevertheless, Mr. Mondale's strategists acknowledge that the lead he started off with last week has shrunk dramatically since that event. "It's tightening, but the expectation is that he's going to win," Mr. Manley said.
Republican daily tracking polls yesterday showed that the race was virtually dead even, with 42 percent supporting Mr. Coleman and 43 percent backing Mr. Mondale. But the substantial undecided vote mostly independents and women has worried the Mondale camp.
The last time Mr. Mondale was on the Minnesota ballot he was the Democrats' 1984 presidential nominee, running against President Ronald Reagan. Mr. Mondale was decisively defeated, carrying only his state by a bare 3,800 votes.
Both candidates have refrained from running negative TV ads, though Mr. Mondale's political allies have been running ads attacking Mr. Coleman on trade and other issues.
But the Republican Party sent an ad to TV stations throughout the state that reminds voters about the energy crisis, the gas lines, skyrocketing inflation and 21 percent interest rates during the Carter-Mondale administration. Though the tape has not been broadcast, its contents were leaked to reporters and have been widely reported in the state's major newspapers.

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