By Scott Wente
St. Paul Capitol Bureau
ST. PAUL -- Sen. Norm Coleman is pulling negative advertising in his tight race against Democrat Al Franken, but the move with just over three weeks left before the election may not clear the airwaves of that type of commercials.
Coleman on Friday said his re-election campaign will not run negative radio or TV commercials for the remainder of the campaign, but his announcement does not affect outside groups that also have been airing negative ads in advance of the Nov. 4 election.
Coleman told reporters that Minnesotans are worried about the troubled economy at a level he has not seen in 32 years of public service, so this is not a time to add to their concern with negative political ads.
"Today people need hope, and a more positive campaign is a good place to start," he said.
Coleman said he arrived at his decision after traveling the state in recent days and seeing a citizenry concerned about the economy and after personal reflection during the Jewish holiday Yom Kippur.
The Republican senator said he will continue to air positive ads about his record and will respond to criticisms by Franken only by talking about his record. Coleman said legally he cannot control the strategies of outside political groups, but said he did not want them to run negative ads.
Those groups, such as the Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, are responsible for some of the nastiest ads in the Minnesota race.
In an interview, Franken said Coleman's announcement does not change his campaign strategy. Franken said he refuses to engage in personal attacks, but will continue talking about issues and Coleman's record.
"I heard what Norm said today and appreciate it, but given that this week's polls are clearly showing that Minnesotans are really sick of his campaign of character assassination, this really kind of rings as a ploy designed to avoid scrutiny of his record," Franken said.
One recent poll showed Franken leading Coleman, but the race generally is considered a dead heat.
Coleman is running ads in markets around Minnesota, but Coleman spokesman Mark Drake said he did not know whether negative ads have appeared more often in some areas of the state.
"I think people all over the state have seen plenty of ads from us," Drake said.
Independence Party candidate Dean Barkley has said the negative ads from Coleman, Franken and other groups have helped him in the polls. Still, Barkley's campaign issued a statement saying, "It's great to see Sen. Coleman has realized Minnesotans want something better from their candidates. Let's hope his surrogates in Washington follow his lead."
Coleman said some of his campaign's negative ads criticizing Franken still could air in the coming days because they may already be in the "pipeline."
However, he added, "I'm going to make a good-faith effort," to halt those ads.