The Republican National Convention in Minnesota should have been a boon for home state Senator Norm Coleman. Granted a national spotlight, the event provided him with access to some of the biggest donors and activists in the party and should have helped his standing in his contentious Senate race.
Instead, bad news has surrounded the Republican incumbent. On Monday, the Denver Post reported that Coleman had championed an energy policy favored by Minneapolis-based Xcel Energy Inc. right around the time that the energy company agreed to give $1 million to the convention. Coleman, who had been tasked with churning up local corporate sponsorship for the affair, denied that there was any conflict of interest.
"There is absolutely no connection between Sen. Coleman's legislative agenda and the financial support that any company or organization made to the 2008 RNC convention," said spokesman Leroy Coleman. "Sen. Coleman's record of championing nuclear as a clean energy source goes back to his race for Senate in 2002."
But the financial ties were enough to raise eyebrows within the good government community. Xcel has donated more than $40,000 to Coleman campaign committees since 2003. Moveover, back in 2005, Xcel Energyhired Coleman's financial director Jan Unstad to be its PAC fundraiser.
The revelation was one drip in a rush of unwelcome news for Coleman during the course of the convention. His help in orchestrating the event also came under scrutiny after it was reported that the CEO of the convention's host committee, Jeff Larson -- a longtime Coleman confidante -- had provided the Senator with a heavily discounted deal on his Washington D.C. apartment.
The most depressing news for Coleman's candidacy, however, may have come in the form of John McCain's vice presidential pick. By choosing Sarah Palin over Gov. Tim Pawlenty, McCain essentially took Minnesota off the GOP radar, in the process depressing voter turnout for Coleman's Senate campaign.
"I would have picked Pawlenty," Coleman declared in an interview after Palin's selection was announced.
Even the festivities themselves proved unpleasant. Days prior to the convention, Coleman acknowledged that, had it not been in his own backyard, he likely would not have been in attendance.
"Coleman needs people who identify as independents to win in Minnesota," explained Katherine Person, a political scientist with the University of Minnesota. "He needs swing voters and swing voters in Minnesota don't seem to be coming around to the McCain-Palin ticket at the same rate as swing voters in other places. It looks like Obama still has it heavily in Minnesota. To the extent that Coleman is linked with the Republican ticket it doesn't help him."
Coleman's week, it should be noted, wasn't all bad. As Person pointed out, the convention did in the end offer him a chance to nuzzle up to some of the GOP's top contributors and partisans, "and he was likely able to energize people to support and work for him and energize his ground troops." And while Coleman's disapproval ratings have grown over the course of the campaign, he has benefited from a relative abundance of attack material provided by his challenger, Al Franken.
"Franken is an opposition researcher's dream," said Person. "People are paying attention to the Coleman apartment issue to the extent they are paying attention to the issue that Al Franken paid taxes in the wrong states."
As it stands now, the Minnesota Senate race seems intent on remaining a nail-biter. Polls continue to be tight and the contest has witnessed a huge amount of fundraising and spending from both sides. The campaign committees are gearing up as well. On Monday the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee put out a new ad hitting Coleman on his support for the Iraq war. The committee also used the convention to its advantage, sending out a separate video of Minnesota's senior senator growing tongue-tide and flustered when asked, outside the Xcel Center, to assess the successes of the Bush administration.