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Franken goes on offense as Coleman prepares to begin re-election bid

Al Franken, the satirist turned U.S. Senate candidate, launched an offensive in St. Paul Tuesday in a State Capitol rally -- with U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., launching his re-election bid today.

"We're going to hold Norm Coleman accountable for what he's done in the U.S. Senate," Franken said before several hundred supports, some showing union signs. "Because while he's been in Washington, the people of Minnesota have indeed been brought together. George W. Bush and Norm Coleman have taken this country in the wrong direction -- and they've taken all of us with them."

Coleman kicks off his campaign today, with the theme "Bringing Minnesota Together Tour," starting in St. Paul. The Republican will do a four-day swing through Minnesota, visiting congressional district GOP conventions and cities across the state.

He's not scheduled to campaign in Detroit Lakes, but will make a stop in Fergus Falls.

Franken, whose competitors for the DFL nomination include University of St. Thomas Professor Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer, picked up key endorsements Tuesday from House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher, DFL-Minneapolis, bringing to 65 the endorsements he has from legislators, and from St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman. Endorsements also came from House Majority Leader Tony Sertich, DFL-Chisholm, and Rep. Tom Ruckavina, DFL-Virgina.

Also, union endorsements came from electrical workers and transportation workers.

"Instead of just thinking about the next quarter, we can think about the next quarter century," Franken said. "We can end the Bush War on Science, and make permanent the research and development tax credit, so that the next great idea comes from right here in Minnesota. We can invest in early childhood education, to give every child a fair chance to succeed in this new century. And we can replace our cowboy foreign policy with one that engages our allies and addresses global challenges, instead of just responding to threats."

Among campaign promises, Franken said he would call for a freeze on home mortgage foreclosures, fully fund the Veterans Administration "so that every vet can have access to full physical, mental and long-term care for life," support for a new G.I. Bill for education, raise the minimum wage and support the Employee Free Choice Act and end the war in Iraq "quickly and responsibly, and bring our troops home."

His cornerstone, Franken said, is universal health care. "Instead of being last in the industrialized world in preventive health care, instead of bankrupting our families and our nation with escalating health care costs, we can have universal health care and join the community of nations that covers every citizen," he said.

Franken set the stage for a battle with Coleman by saying the Republican has been lockstep with the Bush administration until only recently, calling Coleman a "rubber stamp" for Bush.

He recalled a Coleman statement six months after Sen. Paul Wellstone's death in which he said he was a "99 percent improvement over Paul Wellstone." Coleman later apologized, saying he meant he was a 99 percent improvement over Wellstone "in terms of supporting the White House."

And Franken said Coleman has followed the administration in being "a cheerleader" for the war in Iraq, support for Bush's economic plan "of irresponsible tax cuts for the wealthy," serving as an "attack dog" for Bush during the 2004 presidential race, and voting to not allow negotiations for drug prices in the new Medicare Part D.

Franken quoted Wellstone, who held the seat before Coleman, that "the future belongs to those who are passionate and work hard." Franken said he is "so passionate about what we can achieve together."