’08 Senate hopefuls discuss issues that hit home on campus

Each of the leading U.S. Senate candidates granted The Minnesota Daily an opportunity to get answers for some of the most pressing questions on college voters’ minds.

Liz Riggs

THE CANDIDATES AND THEIR EXPERIENCE:

Al Franken:
Political satirist, author, screenwriter, former radio host, fundraiser

Norm Coleman:
Attorney, former St. Paul mayor, Minnesota’s senior U.S. Senator

Mike Ciresi:
Attorney, secured a $6 billion settlement after filing a lawsuit against Big Tobacco on behalf of Minnesota and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota

ON ISSUES IN THIS RACE THAT ARE UNIQUE TO STUDENTS:

Franken:
Cost of higher education, national debt.

“The cost of college, but that isn’t just unique to college students. It is very keenly felt by their parents Ö Then, I think everybody of a college age should be concerned with the mounting debt that we have in our country, (debt) that you’re going to be saddled with.”

Coleman:
Cost of higher education, textbook affordability, study abroad, healthcare.

“Speaking as the parent of a senior in college and a senior in high school Ö obviously education is critical.

“So, as a result, I’ve been a champion for Pell Grants, I fought to increase those a number of times, across party lines to do. Ö things that affect young people and their ability to get a higher education.”

“Some issues that may seem like smaller issues, but again, as a parent of a senior in college, you know, are things like college textbook affordability.”

Ciresi:
Cost of higher education, national debt.

“Today, young people are graduating with a mortgage, without the house.

“What I’ve proposed is a 21st Century Education Fund, which increases the amount of Pell Grants, but also, more importantly, in terms of loans, we would bring down interest rates dramatically Ö

“There’s a debt transfer that’s unprecedented in this nation’s history Ö we need to start addressing that in a very big way.”

ON PURSUING YOUNG VOTERS IN THIS ELECTION AND FRANKEN’S RECENT ‘COLLEGE WEEK’ TOUR:

Franken:
Spent part of the day Oct. 8 on campus for something his campaign called “College Week.”

“I think we need to turn out the youth vote. In the last couple of elections there’s been a remarkable advantage to Democrats in people under 30. And it’s obviously because of this Bush administration.”

“I think that there are a lot of young people that have come of age during this president.”

“It’s been different before. We’re trying to go around to explain that.”

Coleman:
“Al Franken, he’s campaigning full time. I work in the Senate five days a week Ö I’m not campaigning for Senate now.

“What I’m doing is trying to make sure that we get the increases in the Pell Grants. I’m trying to make sure that we have health insurance for young people. I can assure you that when my campaign kicks into full gear that I will very aggressively reach out to young people.”

Ciresi:
“Well, I don’t know if it’s going to be ‘College Week,’ but we’re going to reach out very aggressively to the college age group. Keep in mind, we’ve only been in this race six months.

“The college students are on our radar. There’s no mistake about that.

“There is nobody else in this race who has the record of supporting college students that I have.”

ON THEIR WEAKNESSES:

Franken:
On having spent his whole career outside the political system:

“I think I’ll be able to work well. I actually am something of a policy wonk in an odd way.

“I think that I’ll enjoy really rolling up my sleeves and getting into legislation and into programs and trying to make them work. And I know that requires patience, and I hope that I’m not surprised – unpleasantly surprised – by the process. I think I kind of come in there with my eyes wide open.”

Coleman:
On the results of a recent Star Tribune poll indicating that less than half of Minnesota adults approve of the job he is doing as their U.S. Senator:

“The question of job approval. Is there a magic number anymore?

“I don’t doubt that I think it’s very tough for a Republican, in this environment today, with the challenges the party has and the president has.

“In the end, I would hope that people know who you are.

“(I have) the ability to get things done, to reach across the aisle, versus somebody who for 30 years has been throwing gas on the fire.

“Do I think that this will be a hard-fought contest and is this going to be something that I should be concerned about? I am. Absolutely. I love doing what I do and I am humbled to do what I do. And clearly I will have to work very hard to keep doing that. But that’s what I’ll do.”

Ciresi:
On the challenges he faces being the lesser-known candidate of the three:

“The campaign right now is about going to the delegates, sitting down and talking to them, getting them to understand your issues Ö and contrasting yourself with the other candidates.

“It’s not about getting your name out in front of the population as a whole at this point. That will come starting next year.

“I’m in the best of all possible roles because I have a clean blackboard to write on. Fifty percent of the people don’t know you so you can establish who you are with them. That’s a lot different than 80 percent of the people knowing you and not liking you. That’s a bigger problem. I’m glad I don’t have that problem.”