ROCHESTER, Minn. - U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman asked fellow Republicans Friday to help send him to Washington for another six years so he can continue what his public career of "bringing people together."
In a speech emphasizing both core GOP principles and his willingness to work with Democrats, Coleman accepted his party's endorsement for another Senate term on the first day of the Minnesota Republican Party's state convention at the Mayo Civic Center.
The senator peppered his 35-minute acceptance speech with examples of how he has helped average Minnesotans navigate state and federal government, including the family of a young boy with cancer, victims of northwest Minnesota floods and those affected by last year's Minneapolis bridge collapse.
"People don't need an ideologue ... they need somebody who can make government work for them," Coleman told GOP activists in one of a few references to his likely Democratic opponent, Al Franken.
Coleman went before a convention center with more than 1,200 Republican delegates with mixed feelings about their party heading into the 2008 election cycle. As some are disgruntled over excessive federal spending, Coleman emphasized the need to be fiscally responsible now so that future generations "don't have to be buried under a mountain of debt tomorrow."
The party's message to Democrats, Coleman said, is: "Keep your hands out of our pockets; keep your hands off our change."
Minnesota Democrats will gather in Rochester in the coming days to nominate their own Senate candidate, but Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party officials did not wait to highlight Coleman's connection with the Bush administration.
"Coleman has spent his Senate career protecting corporate special interests at the expense of Minnesota and Minnesotans," DFL Party Chairman Brian Melendez said.
The Franken campaign also criticized the senator, saying Coleman was "rewarded for six years of serving his special interest donors" with his new endorsement.
In a statement, Franken said Minnesotans are struggling to make ends meet in a tough economy while the country continues to pay for the Iraq war.
"Six years of selling out Minnesota families to the big drug and oil companies is more than enough," Franken said.
After his speech, Coleman said that while in the Senate he has both supported and objected to Bush administration policies.
Coleman, a former St. Paul mayor, laid out an ambitious set of priorities for a second term, including making earlier tax cuts permanent, cutting "wasteful Washington spending," ending America's reliance on foreign oil and securing the country's borders.
"Let's be a party of the people willing to take bold and adventurous risks" to leave future generations better off, he told delegates.
While Coleman's endorsement was not in question, some GOP activists are not entirely satisfied with the candidate.
Delegate Troy Dittberner of Douglas County said he believes Minnesota's Republican U.S. senator will retain his seat.
"I think Coleman will win because I think Al Franken's a kook," Dittberner said.
Still, Dittberner said he is frustrated with Coleman and other federal lawmakers. He said they don't stick to conservative principles, particularly about limited government and federal spending, and instead vote with their re-elections in mind.
"The beauty of this party is that there's a diversity of opinion," Coleman said after his speech, during which a small group of GOP activists pushed Coleman to support drilling for oil in an Alaskan wildlife refuge. The senator opposes that.
Coleman called on Republicans to bring people together and offer an upbeat alternative to Democrats' focus on the country's problems.
"We believe that hope, confidence and optimism are America's DNA," he said.