|Candidates Debate Taxes, Abortion on Election Eve|
Nov. 4, 2002 -- In a contentious hour-long debate, former Vice President Walter Mondale and former St. Paul Mayor Norm Coleman sparred over abortion, Iraq and economic plans in their only meeting prior to Tuesday's election.
Public opinion polls have varied, offering voters and the media no clear picture of the race. Mondale -- selected by the state party last week after a plane crash killed two-term incumbent Democrat Paul Wellstone -- used the debate to highlight differences between the two candidates.
Just as the debate between the two began, independent Gov. Jesse Ventura took to the air to announce he was appointing fellow independent and long-time political ally Dean Barkley to temporarily fill Wellstone's seat. The move was in part a response to the decision not to allow the Independence Party candidate to participate in the debate.
But inside the hall, the two leading candidates grappled with divisive issues such as tax policy, abortion and partisanship.
"What you're doing is sticking with the right wing and pretending to change the tone," Mondale said. "Norm, we know you, we've seen you, you have to take responsibility for the positions you're taking."
Coleman defended himself, repeatedly citing his experience working across party lines while mayor of St. Paul and said he hoped to do the same in Congress.
"I was a Republican mayor in a Democratic city and we worked together and got things done without the kind of tone that you're using," Coleman said.
Mondale responded by delineating key differences between himself and Coleman, saying the former mayor had aligned himself with the extreme of the GOP.
The Republican took aim at the former vice president, saying Mondale had pledged to raise taxes during his 1984 presidential run and would likely support doing so in the future.
"I was the one who told the truth before the election," Mondale said. "And I think that's one of the big things Minnesotans have to look at: Who's got the courage to stand up, level with the people, even when it's difficult?"
The Minnesota race is one of several seen as vital in the battle to control the Senate, which Democrats currently hold by only one seat.