By Doug Grow
A week ago, Norm Coleman tried to portray himself as Sen. Nice by announcing he was pulling all his negative ads.
So how's that working out for him?
After the Republican senator recovers from the pounding he took in a debate Thursday night in Duluth, perhaps he'll let us know.
When Coleman wasn't taking punches from DFL challenger Al Franken, he was on the receiving end of haymakers from the Independence Party's Dean Barkley.
"On your watch,'' Barkley said to Coleman, "we've seen the greatest malfeasance in memory. If you were in Enron, you'd probably be indicted.''
Though Barkley reserved most of his deep contempt for Coleman, he did take some shots at both candidates.
Referring to the massive amounts of money that Franken and Coleman have received from special interest groups to mount their campaigns, Barkley had this to say: "Bribing is illegal in this country except for members of Congress.''
When Barkley was resting, Franken fired away at Coleman, attacking him on the amounts he's taken in contributions from the oil and drug industries. He also took an old shot at Coleman about the war in Iraq.
"It was a giant mistake, and Norm Coleman won't admit it,'' said Franken.
This time Coleman had a response to the oft-used Franken attack.
"We all want out (of Iraq),'' Coleman said. "He keeps saying he wants me to say it is a mistake. One of the most challenging jobs I have is to meet with families. I'm not going to tell the parents of a kid who has died in Iraq that he died for a mistake.''
But even that comment couldn't get the incumbent off the hook.
"We've lost enough,'' said Barkley.
Coleman did try his old favorite political dance steps to try to avoid some of the hits.
He talked about "folks" on Main Street and "folks'' on the farm and "folks'' trying to put their kids through college. He understands the pain "folks'' are feeling. When Coleman's in campaign mode, there are no people in Minnesota. Just thousands of "folks.''
He returned to a favorite refrain about "working together to get things done.'' Sometimes, in this Senate campaign, the three parties in this race seem to be the Democratic Party, the Independence Party and Coleman's "working together'' Bipartisan Party.
Coleman even tried to slip in a line about how nice he is for dropping negative ads.
"We're not running negative ads,'' said Coleman. "I think that's a good start.''
He probably shouldn't have tried to pat himself on the back, because both opponents leaped all over him.
First, Franken: "They spent million of dollars on negative ads. They weren't working. He stopped them.''
Then, Barkley: "I'd love to hear you apologize to the people for all those negative ads you did run.''
The candidates' third meeting proved to be a long night for Sen. Nice. And there are two more debates to go.