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Wellstone, Coleman duel with Social Security ads
By Mark Zdechlik
Minnesota Public Radio
September 20, 2002

A new round of ads may have made it more difficult to figure out just what Minnesota's two leading U.S. Senate candidates have in mind for the Social Security system. The campaigns of Sen. Paul Wellstone and challenger Norm Coleman are airing Social Security ads criticizing each other's positons. But none of the ads does much to explain just what the candidates would do for the keeping the system solvent.

Download and view the Coleman TV response ad on Social Security.

Download and view the original Wellstone ad on Social Security (Windows media player)

The Coleman campaign says its latest TV commercial is a response this Wellstone campaign ad which began running late last month.

So many people have lost such much; their college savings, their retirement savings. Americans have lost $630 billion in their pension plans and 401Ks in the last two years. What's really troubling now is there are still so many people that are pushing to put Social Security money in the stock market.

The Coleman campaign calls the Wellstone spot misleading because it implies Republicans, like Coleman, are proposing to invest Social Security trust fund money in the stock market.

What Coleman and others are calling for is the creation of individual retirement accounts in which Americans could voluntarily invest a percentage of their Social Security withholdings in stocks and bonds.

The plan Coleman backs would allow workers, roughly age 50 and under, to privately invest two of the 13 cents per dollar they earn that's withheld for Social Security.

But the new Coleman ad under fire by Democrats does nothing to explain the former St. Paul mayor's proposal. Instead, it accuses Wellstone -- without mentioning him by name -- of trying to scare senior citizens over the Social Security issue.

And I think that's unconscionable that somebody would scare my Mom or scare my Dad. I don't support privatizing Social Security and I'll fight against anybody who would do that. If you want to stay and you want to win there are lots of ways to do that but scaring seniors isn't part of it. It shouldn't be.

Wellstone called a news conference at the state Capitol to accuse the Coleman campaign of blatantly misrepresenting Coleman's position with the "I don't support privatizing Social Security," comment.

"It's a little bit like Bill Clinton defining sex. "

- Joe Kunkel, political science professor

"We have an ad on television where my opponent tells people he's against what he's clearly for," Wellstone said. "This is just wrong to run an ad telling people that you're against what you're actually for. It is just wrong. It is just wrong."

And Wellstone just released a response ad to the Coleman ad that was responding to the initial Wellstone commercial.

"Can we trust Norm Coleman on Social Security? Absolutely not," the ad says.

Like Coleman, Wellstone in his new ad does not explain what he would do to address Social Security's projected insolvency. At his news conference, Wellstone said he favors what he calls a "do no harm approach" that would not remove money from the Social Security Trust Fund and would concentrate on strengthening the economy through job training and small business assistance programs.

Wellstone called a news conference at the state Capitol to accuse the Coleman campaign of blatantly misrepresenting Coleman's position.
(MPR Photo/Mark Zdechlik)

Coleman is campaigning in northern Minnesota and wasn't immediately available for comment. His spokesman, Kurt Zellers, says Wellstone is wrong in equating Coleman's support for individual retirement accounts with Social Security privatization.

"Mayor Coleman has always talked about voluntary personal accounts within the current system. Leaving the money in the current system and this is the scare tactic that they use," Zellers said.

Political science professor Joe Kunkel, who teaches at Minnesota State University at Mankato, says Coleman's "I don't support privatizing Social Security " ad is misleading. Until the stock market plunged, Kunkel says, supporters and opponents of the type of accounts Coleman is promoting generally referred to their plans as plans to privatize Social Security.

"It's a little bit like Bill Clinton defining sex I think. You know he has it in his mind what he's going to call it but that's not the same thing that everybody else has been calling it," Kunkel said.

Kunkel says both Coleman and Wellstone would do voters a service by putting out ads which accurately outline their respective Social Security plans rather than than focusing on commercials which attack their opponents.

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