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Senate candidates lay out differences during debate

GOLDEN VALLEY -- Sen. Norm Coleman said he has demonstrated the courage to make difficult decisions while building a record of bipartisan accomplishment.

"Measure folks by the results," he said.

Democrat Al Franken said Coleman's results have not benefited most in his home state and that he is ready to take Coleman's place and actually fight for Minnesotans.

"I want to act, that's why I'm running for Senate," Franken said. "But it's about who you're acting on behalf of."

And the third candidate, Independence Party's Dean Barkley, used the second debate in Minnesota's U.S. Senate race to argue neither Franken nor Coleman can bring about major change. He blamed them for dodging questions.

"I think I just saw the Texas two-step again," Barkley joked at one point.

The comments came during a 90-minute de-bate Saturday at Breck School near Minneapolis, the candidates' first televised meeting of the general election campaign. KARE-TV televised the first hour.

And in a debate that focused on the economy, energy and foreign policy, the candidates mainly returned to well-worn statements and avoided breaking significant new ground.

An exchange about the recent Wall Street bailout was symbolic of the candidates' responses to a number of questions.

Franken said the package did not include enough taxpayer protections, "but we have to hope it works." He called for new infrastructure spending, more small business assistance and a new direction.

"We have to reverse the disastrous polices that we've seen over the last eight years that have led us to this," Franken said.

As he did several times during the debate, Coleman told Franken it is not enough to stand on the side and criticize.

"You can't sit in the cheap seats, look down and say I'm going to make it better," Coleman said, describing the bailout package as "putting a tourniquet around an artery that's broken." He said the bailout needs more time to have an effect.

Among foreign policy issues discussed, the candidates were asked what the U.S. response should be if Iran secures a nuclear weapon.

Franken said while no options should be taken from the table, "I think it would be a grave mistake to use military action against Iran." He called for "patient diplomacy."

Coleman said the U.S. shouldn't advertise its strategy and that seeking energy independence would be the best way to slow down Iran.

The candidates were asked about their philosophy on Supreme Court appointments. It starts with intellect, Coleman said, and judges should interpret the constitution, not legislate from the bench.

Franken said he would look at "judicial temperament," experience and previous legal work.

They also were asked what they believe to be America's biggest threat. Franken said it is al-Qaida, Coleman cited the "vitriolic partisan divide" that blocks progress on issues and Barkley said it is deficit spending.

Coleman at times challenged Barkley's positions and previous statements, including on the war in Iraq.

"I'm honored that I'm finally starting to get attacked," Barkley responded. "I was wondering when I was going to."

The Senate debate had hints of the presidential race at times.

Franken said that he would have fought against subsidies for oil companies in 2005 energy legislation, even though most senators supported the bill.

"I'm just -- I don't know -- a maverick," Franken said in a reference to what GOP presidential candidate John McCain calls himself. That line drew loud laughter from Franken supporters in the audience.

Barkley, seeking to raise his profile in a race largely seen as between Franken and Coleman, stressed his main campaign issue of the need to end deficit spending and bring down the national debt.

"I don't get it. Nobody seems to care about this but me," he said.

Coleman responded: "It's not what you talk about, it's what you do."

Three Senate debates remain. The candidates will meet again Thursday night on the University of Minnesota-Duluth campus. Their final two debates will be in St. Paul -- Oct. 24 on Twin Cities Public Television's "Almanac" and Nov. 2 in a Minnesota Public Radio-sponsored debate.