The key refrain in Mike McFadden’s campaign against Sen. Al Franken is common to anyone paying close attention to the U.S. Senate race in Minnesota — and perhaps even those that aren’t, thanks to millions spent on television advertising.
Rarely does a news conference or ad pass without the Republican Senate candidate reminding voters that Franken voted with President Obama 97 percent of the time during his tenure as a freshman senator. The choice of message is a logical one for McFadden. Obama’s approval rating in Minnesota is at an all-time state low of 40 percent, according to the Star Tribune Minnesota Poll.
But on at least one major vote last week, the two found themselves in quiet agreement.
McFadden, an investment banker from Sunfish Lake, has ramped up his criticism of Franken for voting in lockstep with Obama on foreign policy in the wake of beheadings of two American journalists and a British aid worker by the group Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). The issue is of particular interest in Minnesota, where federal authorities say upward of a dozen men and three women have fled the country to fight alongside or aid extremists in the Middle East. Grand jury proceedings are underway to determine who is behind the terror recruitment efforts.
McFadden called reporters to his Eagan headquarters recently to decry what he called a lack of action by Franken and other Senate Democrats on shutting down recruitment of would-be terrorists. During the same news conference, McFadden said he sided with Obama’s $5 billion strategy to arm and train moderate Syrian rebels to confront ISIL, along with continued airstrikes, so long as U.S. combat troops weren’t sent in.
“I do support President Obama’s plan, I was very happy to see his speech the other night; before that I was very, very frustrated with the lack of any foreign policy strategy,” McFadden said. “I was very happy to see his comments the other night about strategic bombings both in Syria and continuing in Iraq.”
Four days later, Franken voted to authorize the same strategy along with fellow Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar. Less than 24 hours before, Franken said he was unsure how he would vote.
“While I do have real concerns about this strategy, I believe that training and arming the Syrian rebels is our best available option,” Franken said in a statement afterward.
GOP Rep. Michele Bachmann, who endorsed McFadden at the party’s state convention in May, voted against the measure.
Just because they agree on a vote doesn’t bring an end to the back-and-forth between the candidates, however. Earlier this month, Franken urged Attorney General Eric Holder to focus U.S. Department of Justice resources on recruitment at home by terror organizations, particularly in Minnesota. Franken also urged Holder to prevent travel abroad by those suspected of joining ISIL.
McFadden called Franken’s letter “a day late and a dollar short,” given that terror recruiting in Minnesota is believed to have been going on since 2009.
“I think it’s a feeble attempt, and I think it’s political in nature,” McFadden said Sunday, adding that he believes the Senate should back his proposal to rescind re-entry privileges for people who join terrorist armies overseas. The proposal aligns with a bill proposed by Bachmann, dubbed the Terrorist Denaturalization and Passport Revocation Act.
Last week, Franken’s staff said that while they believe the State Department already has that authority, he may be open to any proposal that prevents terrorists from re-entering the country.
Last week, the Justice Department said the Twin Cities is one of three areas in the country to take part in a pilot program to counter violent extremism and recruitment efforts.
Franken and McFadden lauded the move, but don’t expect peace between the two.