U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman holds on to mayor title

Norm Coleman is about as laid back as a Republican can get. Maybe that is what years as a Democrat will do to you.

Republican, Democrat, independent Republican, or any way you pin him, Coleman, does not have a lot of free time.

“Like [Al] Franken said, ‘I don’t do a lot of hanging out,’” Coleman said referencing an earlier interview with the Senate hopeful in the Southwest Journal. “But that’s the price you pay.”

The first-term, Republican senator is usually in Washington, D.C. during the workweek, putting in 20-hour days. He then opts to hop a late Friday afternoon commercial flight back home to St. Paul at least three weekends a month, he said.

For the countless horse-race analogies American politicians have used this campaign season, Coleman takes a fresh approach to describing his travel habits.

“Actually, I’m an over-the-road trucker,” Coleman said while seated April 18 at the old bar at O’Gara’s on Snelling in St.Paul. “I’ve been hanging out at O’Gara’s since Vince Flynn was a bartender here.”

It is clear that after campaigning all day — he earlier received the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) endorsement — once back at home in the Crocus Hill neighborhood, the man who was twice elected mayor of St. Paul lets down his well-coiffed hair.

“I tell people I may have senator in front of my name, but I have mayor stitched into my underwear,” he said flashing a toothy smile.

Coleman is a member of 10 Senate committees and subcommittees. He calls himself a champion of renewable fuel sources (cellulosic ethanol) and the housing crisis (tax credits for first-time homebuyers). He describes himself an optimistic problem solver who, unlike his opponent Franken, doesn’t support a timetabled withdrawal of troops from Iraq.

Instead, he would like to see a progression wherein Iraqis use profits from their 2.3 million barrels of oil produced each day to establish a stable, self-governed economy.

“I’d like to see our troops come home as soon as they can get home, and do it safely,” he said. “And not undermining what they’ve gained.”

Aside from his late father, Norm Sr., he lists Abraham Lincoln, Bobby Kennedy and Winston Churchill as heroes. The member of the foreign relations committee has also recently returned from Iraq and China, where he proudly boasts he scored “a few points” in a goodwill match with members of the Chinese Olympic Ping-Pong team.

He was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., is a Freemason like his father, plays tennis and practices Judaism.

Coleman, 58, is a father of two: Sarah and Jacob, who will soon graduate from high school and college, respectively. He is a longtime husband to Laurie, whom he “scored a few points with,” by taking her — she’s Catholic — to hear Pope Benedict XVI speak on the White House lawn.

Coleman said that when it comes to the close race between himself and Franken, he is pretty confident Minnesota voters will turn to what The Pope talked about: reasoned, rational judgment.

“I say it very humbly, but I feel very good and I’m the clear choice in this race,” he said. “[I have] 30 years of solving problems, and I run against the guy who doesn’t have a single thing in his background.”

Coleman doesn’t find Franken — a political satirist, and fellow New York native — all that funny. He called his satire harsh, divisive and angry.

“In challenging times, people are looking for optimistic problem solvers, not folks who are simply angry about the war or the president.”

Coleman said he knows President Bush “well enough” but has never been to his Crawford, Texas ranch.

“It doesn’t work that way,” he said with a laugh.

Nearly four decades before Coleman became a senator, he was a bass roadie for the English blues-rock band Ten Years After. In the summer of 1969, he left the band just before the Woodstock Festival. He’d decided he would rather spend his 20th birthday in Max Yasger’s field with 500,000 of his closest friends.

“Woodstock was one of the last of the massive gatherings without violence,” he said.

Coleman isn’t an accomplished author like Franken, however, he is kicking around the idea of someday trading speechwriting for an autobiography of his “blessed” life.

“I love this country; love being in conversation about its place in the world, and I’ve done wonderful things,” he said. “Whether that’s of interest to people, who knows?”

To check out profiles of other U.S. Senate candidates, including Al Franken and Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer, search for their names in the archives section.

Reach Steve Pease at spease@mnpubs.com.