As McCain Goes Negative, a GOP Senator Makes a Positive Turn
Updated 7:37 p.m.
By Peter Slevin
CHICAGO -- Falling behind in a sheaf of polls amid one of the nastiest campaigns in the country, Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.) announced today that he will unilaterally disarm: He will pull his negative advertising and urge his supporters to do the same.
At a St. Paul press conference, the onetime Democrat-turned-Republican sounded as though he was channeling Sen. Barack Obama, who has taken a strong lead in Minnesota polls. Coleman said he would change his tactics and his tone, traveling the state "to connect with people and let them know there's hope."
"At times like this, politics should not add to negativity -- it should lift people up with hope and a confident vision for the future," Coleman said in prepared remarks. "And second, I decided that I was not all that interested in returning to Washington for six years based on the judgment of voters that I was not as bad as the other two guys."
The other two guys are Democratic comedian Al Franken and Independence Party candidate Dean Barkley. Three recent polls show Franken taking his first lead after trailing, sometimes badly. The numbers ranged from a 43 - 34 - 18 split in a Minneapolis Star Tribune poll released last week to 41 - 37 - 14 in a Minnesota Public Radio/Humphrey Institute sounding released Wednesday.
This week's poll attributed the sharp reversal in Coleman's numbers -- he had been 9 points ahead of Franken -- to the economy.
Coleman's move also comes at a time when reporters are questioning the first-term senator's relationship with donors and other supporters.
A YouTube video of his press secretary refusing to say whether a supporter gave free suits to Coleman had been viewed more than 130,000 times at last count. My inimitable colleague Chris "The Fix" Cillizza called it perhaps "the most awkward press conference in the history of politics."
The decision to pull the negative ads comes as the McCain-Palin camp and the Republican National Committee are going the other direction, slamming Obama in a barrage of increasingly personal attacks that are being met with war cries from McCain's supporters.
Coleman told reporters that he would not be appearing at a planned rally with McCain this afternoon. Could it be McCain's sliding polling numbers in Minnesota? His attacks on Obama? Coleman said he needs the time to work on suspending his own negative ads.
"Today," he said, "people need hope and a more positive campaign is a start."
The Franken campaign was unimpressed.
"Given that this week's polls are clearly showing that Minnesotans are sick of Norm Coleman's campaign of character assassination, today's stunt rings as a cynical ploy designed to change the subject and avoid scrutiny of his own record," said Andy Barr, Franken's communications director.
"It's like an arsonist burning down every house in the village and asking to be named fire chief."
Web Politics Editor
October 10, 2008; 3:18 PM ET
Categories: Battlegrounds , John McCain
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