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Star Tribune - From Brooklyn to St. Paul, from Woodstock to Washington: Few Journeys in Minnesota Politics Have Resembled Norm Coleman's

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Location: Minneapolis - St. Paul, MN


Star Tribune - From Brooklyn to St. Paul, from Woodstock to Washington: Few Journeys in Minnesota Politics Have Resembled Norm Coleman's

By KEVIN DIAZ, Star Tribune

Norm Coleman's hippie past survives in a grainy black-and-white photograph on the window sill of his Senate office: There he is, hair down to his shoulders, together with frizzy-haired radical lawyer William Kunstler, mobilizing anti-war demonstrators in the convulsive days after the 1970 Kent State shootings.

The picture, taken a quarter-century before Coleman's Republican conversion, stands in jarring contrast beside other memorabilia of his later political career, including trophy shots with President Bush, whom Coleman once described as "God's answer" to prayer.

What a long, strange trip it's been.

As Coleman enters the final weeks of a scalding reelection campaign, it is clear that few journeys in modern Minnesota politics have meandered as widely as his -- or so embittered the former companions who were left behind.

Yet in many ways, Coleman's evolution from Woodstock idealism to buttoned-down pragmatism is merely the quintessential story of the boomer generation, which has seen rebellious Beatles anthems become elevator music.

"As a '60s counterculture person, would I think I would become a Republican senator from Minnesota?" Coleman says. "No."

But then, at that point in his life, that long-haired activist at Hofstra University in New York "didn't get married, didn't go through the death of two kids, didn't pay a mortgage," he said. "There are life experiences that ultimately move you."

Coleman's political enemies have long dwelt on the transformation to argue that Coleman is "hollow" (Garrison Keillor's epithet), a man driven by naked ambition, changing convictions to suit changing times and circumstances.

"People who don't like him think he's a machine," said longtime Coleman critic John Mannillo, a St. Paul real estate broker who attended Hofstra at the same time as Coleman. "If you took off his shirt, you'd find a bunch of wires under there."


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