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Coleman's White House connections on display during Bush visit
By Mark Zdechlik
Minnesota Public Radio
March 5, 2002
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Republican Norm Coleman says his Senate campaign easily raised more than $1 million thanks to President Bush. After an address at Eden Prairie High School, the president posed for pictures and spoke to hundreds of Republican donors who paid $1,000 or more at a Coleman fundraiser in downtown Minneapolis.

Listen to President Bush's speech at Eden Prairie High School on March 4, 2002.
(Photo: Carlos Gonzalez/Star Tribune)

The Bush administration has shown a keen interest in Minnesota's Senate race for months. Vice President Dick Cheney personally discouraged House Majority Leader Tim Pawlenty from challenging Norm Coleman, and Bush has already made one visit with political overtones.

On Monday night, he told the invitation-only crowd of some 1,400 enthusiastic Republicans that he's impressed by Coleman and that he wants Coleman in Washington.

"Tonight, I'm here for one simple reason: I want Norm Coleman to become the next United States senator from Minnesota," Bush said.

Bush praised Coleman as a politician with a track record of getting things done, citing the Senate candidate's achievements during his eight years as St. Paul mayor.

"He's a man of accomplishment. He knows what it takes to succeed. He's a proven leader. He's a practical guy that focuses on results and that's the kind of United States senator you need in the state of Minnesota," he said.

The president did not specifically reference DFL incumbent Sen. Paul Wellstone. But Coleman did, calling Wellstone "a reformer without results and a voice in the wilderness."

"Passionate rhetoric and idealism are admirable if they accomplish something," Coleman said. "Mr. President, when I am in the United States Senate, I am going to go to work with you as part of the new let's-get-it-done coalition."

The president did not specifically reference DFL incumbent Sen. Paul Wellstone. But Coleman did, calling Wellstone "a reformer without results and a voice in the wilderness."
(MPR Photo/Mark Zdechlik)

Coleman's close ties with the White House, have drawn criticism from opponents who suggest that if elected to the Senate, Coleman will vote in lock step with the Republican agenda.

The president, however, called Coleman an independent thinker.

"I hope the people of Minnesota from all parties understand what a good and decent honorable man Norm Coleman is and to send him to the United States Senate," he said.

In addition to promoting Coleman's candidacy, President Bush talked about the nation's response to last fall's terrorist attacks and the ongoing effort to to bring the perpetrators to justice. The president noted the latest loss of U.S. lives resulting from a downed helicopter over Afghanistan.

"And I know all of us mourn for the family members who have lost their life, but I can assure them that the cause is just. Defending freedom and defending the homeland is a noble and just cause and I hope they're as proud of them as I am," he said.

Outside of the downtown Minneapolis Hilton, a couple of hundred of people demonstrated as the president raised money for Coleman's campaign.

The protesters had a litany of issues; iron miners called for steep tariffs on foreign steel. Environmentalists criticized the administration's energy policy. Civil libertarians were upset about post 9-11 law changes they say strip Americans' rights under the auspices of securing the nation.

Supporters of Sen. Paul Wellstone lined a portion of President Bush's route to Eden Prairie.
(MPR Photo/Tom Scheck)

Minneapolis police limited the protests to a sidewalk across the street from the main entrance to the hotel. Two people were detained, police say, for throwing pretzels at them.

A handful of demonstrators carried Paul Wellstone signs. State DFL Party Chair Mike Erlandson sarcastically referred to the president as Coleman's campaign manager, suggesting the attention of the White House might just hurt the Republican challenger.

"I don't think Minnesotans really want to see their candidate or a candidate for the office of Senate to be so closely tied to the White House regardless of what political party it is and there's no question that Norm Coleman is the handpicked candidate of the Bush-Cheney White House and they're here doing their part for him," he said.

After the president left, Coleman told reporters that in addition to raising huge amounts of money, the Bush visit energized his campaign. Coleman said he expects President Bush will return to Minnesota to further assist him, probably after Labor Day, in the final stretch toward November's elections.

Sen. Paul Wellstone, who was not invited to the Eden Prairie event, held a news conference at the Capitol, criticizing Bush's education policies. Listen to his comments.

(MPR Photo/Tom Scheck)

Earlier, at Eden Prairie High School, Bush addressed about 4,000 people gathered in the gym, most of them cheering wildly. "Bush rules!" one student yelled in a quiet moment.

Bush highlighted his education agenda, including forgiving $17,500 in student loans from math, science and special education teachers, an initiative that didn't make it through Congress in the last session. He also said reading should be the priority in elementary school.

"The truth is, if we can't teach the children to read, they won't understand science and math," Bush said.

With fighting in Afghanistan intensifying, Bush also spent a good chunk of time talking about the war.

"They thought we were soft and materialistic. They thought we had no moral fiber," he said of America's enemies.

He urged students to get involved and volunteer, citing as an example Willard Gove, an 83-year-old retiree who helped build soccer fields and does other volunteer work in his free time. Bush met Gove at the airport.

Not everyone was impressed with the president's message.

Cindy Johnson, a 45-year-old mother of two who has long volunteered in the district, said she didn't think Bush understands the challenges schools are facing.

"We are in a mess in Minnesota," Johnson said. She worried about looming budget cuts that could mean layoffs and fewer class choices. And schools may be losing a lot of good potential teachers because of poor salaries, she said.

Earlier in the day, Wellstone and a coalition of education groups separately criticized Bush for not supporting more money for special education. The federal government promised years ago when it required schools to teach special education students that it would pay 40 percent of the cost. That number has never risen above 15 percent, Wellstone said.