ST. PAUL -- The U.S. Senate candidates are sprinting toward Nov. 4, but it may be Minnesota voters who grow tired during the next eight weeks of hearing what they have been told for months.
Fresh off primary victories, Republican Sen. Norm Coleman and Democrat Al Franken on Wednesday talked about debates and ramped up their campaigns, but returned to the same arguments that so far have framed the race.
Meanwhile, former Sen. Dean Barkley found himself in the middle of it all after defeating six fellow Independence Party candidates in Tuesday's election. Barkley, who was appointed to a brief U.S. Senate term by Gov. Jesse Ventura after the late Sen. Paul Wellstone died in a 2002 airplane crash, renewed his key campaign message, too. Franken and Coleman "are the same old, same old," he said.
Franken hit the campaign trail Wednesday morning, speaking in St. Paul before touring southern Minnesota cities to tout a college tuition relief plan. He was coming off a primary victory in which he gained 65 percent of the vote and beat six opponents.
"We know the country's been going in the wrong direction," Franken told supporters at the Paul and Sheila Wellstone Community Center.
"We know that our government has been taken over by special interests. And in 55 days, we can choose to take it back."
"It's the choice of more of the same and a new direction," he added in a speech billed as new but that included many of the themes Franken has campaigned on for more than a year.
Coleman campaign manager Cullen Sheehan said Wednesday they have no plans to deviate from continuing to emphasize the senator's record of service. The campaign unveiled three new television ads to back that up; the ads feature Minnesotans who support Coleman.
Coleman said in an interview the key issue for voters will be deciding who can bridge the "bitter partisan divide affecting Washington."
"I think Minnesotans will have a very clear choice in this campaign," he said.
Coleman, in Washington on Wednesday, stressed that he will target the nearly 30 percent of Democrats who favored attorney Priscilla Lord Faris over Franken.
"There are a lot of Priscilla Lord Faris voters I'd love to welcome to my side," Coleman said after he won his primary with 91 percent of the vote. "Clearly there's a big chunk of Democrats out there who have concerns about Franken's experience, have concerns about his positions."
"Those folks are going to be looking for a home," Coleman added.
Franken said those voters will rally behind his campaign.
"I think all Democrats will come home," he said.
Franken and Coleman said there should be around four debates in their race and that Barkley should be included. Barkley, who wants six debates, said he hopes to do well.
Most debate sponsors already have invited him, he said. He is picking up 8 percent in polls, and most debates require a candidate to have 5 percent to be invited.
The conclusion of the primary marked the beginning of other general election races around the state.
Republican Brian Davis of Rochester topped state Sen. Dick Day of Owatonna in their race to challenge freshman Democratic U.S. Rep. Tim Walz in southern Minnesota's 1st Congressional District. Davis beat Day 67 percent to 33 percent.
The result was closer in the GOP 7th Congressional District primary. Western Minnesota voters favored Glen Menze over Alan Roebke 52 percent to 48 percent. Menze will take on U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, a Detroit Lakes Democrat who beat Menze handily in 2000.
Supreme Court Justice Paul Anderson and challenger Tim Tingelstad, a Bemidji resident and Detroit Lakes native, will face off in the general election.
Things are less clear in the other Supreme Court race on Tuesday's primary ballot. A statewide manual recount is needed after Justice Lorie Gildea advanced to the general election with more than 53 percent of the vote, but her two closest challengers were separated by less than one-half a percentage point. That automatically triggered a recount, which Secretary of State Mark Ritchie said should take place next week.