With just 14 days to election day, and absentee ballots already being processed in the state of Minnesota, the race for Paul Wellstone’s Senate seat is being closely watched – locally and nationally – and with good reason. Having been occupied by Norm Coleman (R) since Wellstone’s untimely death two weeks before election day in 2002, the seat is well-positioned for a return to its Democratic – Wellstone – roots.
Current polls show Al Franken (D) with a growing lead (2-3%) and Independence Party challenger Dean Barkley carrying a notable 18% of votes among “likely voters”. However, with Coleman perceived as [very] unfavorable among more voters than Franken in every category (except “Republican”), one has to consider Barkley’s polled 18% a misrepresentation of solid support come election day.
Among the many critical issues at stake is health care. Both Coleman and Barkley believe the free market should determine the quality and cost of health care. Specifically, Coleman would provide tax credits with which people could buy private insurance. He would also invest in “comparative effectiveness research” among physicians and create “incentives” for those who follow certain guidelines. Additionally, Coleman favors Bush’s acclaimed “health savings accounts” as [at least] partial replacement of employer-based health benefits. Barkley says, “Let the private sector compete with the public sector and see who wins.”
Franken’s Health Care plan resembles Barack Obama’s plan in that he believes in universal coverage, but Franken also believes that it’s not enough. He believes every state should cover its own citizens under a variety of options. He wants to make Medicaid a true single-payer system and says, “Right now, we overpay insurance companies who then turn around and cherry-pick only the healthiest seniors to cover.” He also believes in safe staffing levels for nurses, and has received endorsements from both the Minnesota Nurses Association and the Laborers District Council MN & ND.
Another critical issue for our time is how we will maintain our Social Security system. Coleman, like Bush and McCain, supports privatization of Social Security while Franken “will oppose any effort to privatize Social Security, period.”
As usual, the issue of taxes is simultaneously convoluted and watered down during campaign season. In a recent debate, Barkley said, “At this point in time, I would do nothing with tax policy. We do not have a tax problem in this country,” but then went on to propose a four-year Federal spending freeze similar to the freeze proposed by John McCain at the last presidential debate.
Coleman’s approach to taxes is also similar to McCain’s – and George W. Bush’s. Coleman champions the Bush tax cuts and consistently fails to recognize the disparate portion of taxes currently paid by the middle class. With Minnesota’s unemployment rate at a 22-year high, Franken points out that tax cuts for the wealthy has failed to create the jobs that Coleman and the Bush Administration promised they would and says, “Let’s not tilt all our tax break to the people at the top.” Instead, he advocates a Kitchen Table approach to tax relief which focuses on tax relief for working families and Minnesota businesses.
“The total cost of Al Franken’s Kitchen Table Tax Relief Plan is approximately $6.5 billion per year. Franken would pay for the cost of his plan without increasing the deficit by dedicating money from implementing the GAO’s recommendations for reducing improper federal payments; by enacting anti-tax-shelter reforms; and by closing the tax loophole that allows investment managers to use offshore tax havens to defer paying taxes on the money they earn.”
Negative campaigning in this race has led many voters to poll “likely to vote for Barkley” as a stance against the ugly tone of the race. However, most voters will remember that Franken’s first ads, in which he appeared with a favorite teacher from St. Louis Park, set a tone of civility and honesty, and that it was the Republicans who came out swinging – with dirty bricks. Coleman recently claimed he has ended his negative campaigning, although his actions reveal otherwise.
On November 4th, when voters find themselves alone in voting booths all across the state, knowing that a vote for Barkley is a vote for Coleman (and the continuation of Bush administration policies), today’s 18% Barkley Factor might not be a factor after all.