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Coleman, Franken, Barkley debate economy

DULUTH - Republican Sen. Norm Coleman, Independence Party candidate Dean Barkley and Democratic candidate Al Franken offered different prescriptions for the financial crisis at Thursday night's debate at the University of Minnesota Duluth's Romano Gym.

Coleman voiced support for the $700 billion bailout bill, Franken addressed his opposition to the bailout, and Barkley said the more serious matter is balancing the record $455 billion federal budget deficit.

An injection of money into the markets provides immediate and necessary relief to citizens, Coleman said.

"If this (economy) collapsed, a parent with a child in college wouldn't have the opportunity to get a loan because credit is freezing," Coleman said.

Barack Obama's proposal of a 90-day moratorium on home foreclosures received Franken's support because it addresses the middle class.

"This is about where does our prosperity come from, and I believe it comes from working families," Franken said.

Barkley said he won't pander to voters because the country can't afford new spending because of the deficit.

"No. 1, we have to balance the budget," Barkley said.

Moderator Patrick Marx asked the candidates questions, with the opportunity for follow-ups, for the first 45 minutes. In the final 45 minutes, audience members asked the candidates questions.

From the largely student audience of about 1,000, the first question addressed the candidates' plans to stem the loss of young people from northeastern Minnesota.

Coleman cited his support of expanding Pell grants for students, Franken proposed a $5,000 tax credit for every student to attend college, while Barkley asked, "How are we going to pay for it?"

Franken holds a slight edge over Coleman in Tuesday's poll by Quinnipiac University-Wall Street Franken had 38 percent, and Coleman was at 36 percent, with Barkley at 18 percent.

The candidates debated two times in the past 10 days - Oct. 5 in Rochester, Minn., and Saturday in Minneapolis.

Two debates remain before Election Day on Nov. 4 - Oct. 24 on Twin Cities Public Television's Almanac show and Nov. 2 at Minnesota Public Radio's Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul.