Tags: 2014 Midterm Elections | Gizzi | Franken | Minnesota | Senate

Challenge to Al Franken May Be Senate 'Sleeper' Race

Image: Challenge to Al Franken May Be Senate 'Sleeper' Race
US Senator Al Franken, D-Minn. (Saul Loeb/ Getty Images)

By John Gizzi
Wednesday, 13 Aug 2014 07:11 AM More Posts by John Gizzi

Mike McFadden's win in the Republican primary for U.S. Senate on Tuesday has enhanced the hopes of Minnesota Republicans that they may be able to take out liberal Democratic Sen. Al Franken this fall.

Investment banker and first-time office-seeker McFadden rolled nearly 70 percent of the vote over four opponents. Noting the early charges of Democrats and some Republicans that McFadden was trying to "buy" the nomination with his own wealth, supporters said he raised the bulk of his war chest from others rather than writing a check to fund his candidacy.

"Mike is in no way a 'self-funder,'" former State GOP Chairman Pat Shortridge told Newsmax, "He got where he is now mostly by raising the campaign funds from others — and he’s obviously pretty good at it."

He will have to be. Franken is seeking a second term with $5 million in his campaign warchest. A just-completed New York Times/CBS poll among likely voters statewide showed Franken defeating McFadden 55 percent to 41 percent.

When onetime "Saturday Night Live" star Franken first went to Washington, national Democrats expected the Harvard-educated comedian would become an overnight star. To them, Franken seemed to be a true-to-life Tom Dobbs, the late-night comic-turned-presidential candidate played by the late Robin Williams in the movie "Man of the Year."

Franken has not lived up to that billing. He has been relatively quiet in office, is not a presence on Sunday TV talk shows and has not pushed any major causes. As Shortridge said, "Franken has gone so far underground people think he’s under the witness protection program!"

But his support of President Barack Obama 97 percent of the time and his down-the-line support of Obamacare are sure to be highlighted by McFadden. In addition, James L. Martin, chairman of the SixtyPlus Seniors Association, predicted to Newsmax that Franken’s opposition to repeal of the estate tax and McFadden’s support would play pivotal roles in the Gopher State’s Senate race this year.

"'Senior power' on the death tax issue and Obamacare is going to be a factor in Republicans taking the Senate," said Martin, who predicted to Newsmax in May that the GOP would make a net gain of 11 seats in the Senate "and Mike McFadden will be one of them."

The Republican challenge to Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton could also work to McFadden’s advantage.

Having handily won a four-candidate primary for nomination to oppose Dayton, Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson is expected to run hard against the governor’s $2 billion tax increase and his attempt to force unionization of child health care providers (which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against earlier this summer).

Although Minnesota has had a long history of electing Republicans who are more centrist than right-of-center, conservatives have managed to win statewide in modern times. The late Sen. Rod Gramms, who served from 1995-2001, compiled a voting record almost identical to that of North Carolina’s stalwart conservative Sen. Jesse Helms. Former Sen. Norm Coleman, who served from 2003-09, and former two-term Gov. Tim Pawlenty are both considered more conservative than moderate.

McFadden is clearly cut from that mold — "more conservative than moderate." Whether that can sell in Minnesota enough to take out Al Franken is sure to be one of the more intriguing political stories of 2014.

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Mike McFadden's win in the Republican primary for U.S. Senate on Tuesday has enhanced the hopes of Minnesota Republicans that they just might be able to take out liberal Democratic Sen. Al Franken this fall.
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