Candidates criticize Mondale for refusing debate invite

Libby George

Walter Mondale might have accepted the DFL bid for Senate, but he will not accept an invitation to the Star Tribune-KSTP debate scheduled for tonight.

Candidates from the three other major parties have accepted and are criticizing Mondale for his refusal, particularly in light of Tuesday night’s memorial for Sen. Paul Wellstone, which they dubbed a “rally.”

“That is why my call for debates is appropriate,” GOP State Chairman Ron Eibensteiner said at a press conference Wednesday.

Green Party candidate Ray Tricomo and Independence Party candidate Jim Moore were also critical of Mondale’s refusal.

“Since (Sen.) Paul Wellstone’s passing, there were a number of debates that were canceled, but Ö Election Day is less than five days away, and the public is trying to make up their mind on who they will choose to be their next senator,” Tricomo said.

Although Mondale has said he will appear in one debate before the election, campaign workers said at this point they only know it will not be today.

Back on the trail

we’re back at work, and that’s a good thing,” Coleman said at Wednesday night’s GOP rally in St. Paul.

Coleman kicked off his “Future is Now,” tour Thursday morning, traveling to Moorhead, Fergus Falls, East Grand Forks, Willmar and Mankato, Minn., with a little extra cash under his belt following Tuesday’s memorial for Wellstone.

“The phones have been ringing off the hook at the Coleman campaign,” Eibensteiner said.

He added that people across the state who were outraged at the rally-like nature of the memorial called in to donate money, and the party raised $150,000 during that time alone.

According to the GOP online newsletter, the reaction has spread across the nation. As of noon Thursday, it said, online contributions had been received from 41 states.

Eibensteiner also asked media to give Coleman airtime equal to that received by the Wellstone memorial, which was about three hours.

“I think obviously there are a number of events coming up over the next three to four days, and they can cover that,” he said.

Vice President Dick Cheney will appear with Coleman at a rally in Hermantown, Minn., on Friday and first lady Laura Bush will speak for Coleman at Eagan High School on Saturday.

White House officials also confirmed Thursday that President George W. Bush will campaign with Coleman and other Republicans at the Xcel Center in St. Paul on Sunday afternoon. The visit will be Bush’s fifth to campaign for Coleman.

Coleman’s campaign is also looking for more help from supporters in the campaign’s final days.

“I ask you to give me the next six days of your life to make a difference in Minnesota,” Coleman said Wednesday.

Eibensteiner told Republicans at the rally the GOP needs more volunteer poll-watchers due to increased election-night security in response to the absentee-ballot lawsuit – filed on behalf of DFL Party Chairman Mike Erlandson – and the hand-counting of ballots.

Minnesota’s Supreme Court on Thursday ordered local election officials to send out new absentee ballots to people who ask to change their Senate vote following Wellstone’s death.

Mondale also began campaigning Thursday with radio interviews on WCCO and Minnesota Public Radio.

Mondale then hosted a town meeting at his alma mater, Macalester College, before a crowd of more than 700 people.

Mondale answered audience questions and focused on Wellstone’s memory.

“I think somebody had to carry Paul’s torch Ö someone who believed in carrying forward Paul’s legacy, and I do. That’s what I’m here for,” Mondale said.

Mondale told the audience at Macalester that it was with reluctance he was campaigning at all.

“Here we are grieving Ö and yet we are forced to campaign in a political way to replace a martyred senator,” Mondale said.

Mondale’s campaign office, which mainly consists of Wellstone’s former staff, said he will host town meetings today at Mankato State University and Central High School in Rochester.

Mondale also ended his speech imploring the audience of mostly students that he needed their help.

“I know about you Ö you don’t need sleep,” he said.

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