WASHINGTON – Minnesota Sen. Al Franken raised $6 million in the first half of the year, the second-largest haul of any incumbent in the entire U.S. Senate.
Then just in the month of July, the first-term Minnesota Democrat raised another $1 million.
Receipts from Franken’s strongest GOP opponent, Mike McFadden, are also impressive. The Sunfish Lake businessman was the seventh best fundraiser of all U.S. Senate challengers nationally, raising $1.1 million in the second quarter and another $200,000 from July 1 to July 23, according to federal election records.
The blistering fundraising pace among Senate candidates is the freshest sign the race will be expensive and hotly contested, as both candidates proving themselves to be powerhouse money-raisers at home and nationally.
“[Franken] has a very large base of support not only here in this state but around the country,” DFL Party chair Ken Martin. “If this race tightens up there no doubt that he will be able to tap into those resources in the state and around the country, as well.”
National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman Kansas Sen. Jerry Moran said he was pleased with McFadden’s work wooing contributors since winning the party’s endorsement in May.
“He’s raising money,” Moran said. “Minnesota is a quirky state … It’s not the easiest state [for Republicans.]”
McFadden is trying to convince skeptics in part by boasting about his fundraising prowess to the party faithful — something needed in a head-to-head matchup with Franken, who has already poured more than $2 million into television advertising. McFadden distributed glossy fliers at the May state convention said, “Mike has raised nearly $3 million. This not only gives him a significant advantage over every other Republican in this race, but it also surpasses most other challenger races in the country.”
McFadden still faces an Aug. 12 primary opponent in GOP state Rep. Jim Abeler. His Senate fundraising report was not available online on Friday, but Abeler said it would not contain “any breathtaking news.” He said he expects that McFadden would outspend him 16-1 or maybe 18-1.
“I don’t think we have a large amount of money in the bank,” he said.
The newest reports posted at the Federal Election Commission capture a three-week fundraising period ahead of the primary. Those reports, which aren’t filed from states without an August primary, show Franken is among the top fundraisers in the country and McFadden shares the same status among those trying to oust a sitting senator.
Big cash in House races
The big money is flowing Up North as the race tightens.
The Eighth Congressional District has emerged as one of the tightest races nationally between incumbent Democratic Rep. Rick Nolan and his GOP challenger Stewart Mills. The Cook Political Report, which offers independent, nonpartisan analysis of U.S. elections, shifted that race Friday from “leans Democratic” to a “tossup.” Campaign finance reports filed this week show Nolan catching up to Mills’ fundraising, however, while Mills is continuing to dip into his personal fortune.
The scion of the Mills Fleet Farm enterprise has so far devoted $168,000 of his own money to the campaign. Mills brought in $81,000 in the reporting period July 1 to July 23.
Nolan, a first-term congressman who also served in the 1970s, openly dismisses the need for prodigious fundraising in politics.
But he has clearly stepped it up, bringing in $88,621 in that three-week period. In the three weeks of July, he raised 30 percent of what he had raised in the whole three months previous and, with $625,000 in the bank, he had almost $270,000 more cash on hand than his Republican rival.
Documents show Nolan spent some of that money already, reserving airtime in September.
The Nolan-Mills race is already turning nasty. Earlier this week, two Minnesota television stations owned by Stanley Hubbard, a Mills supporter, pulled ads off the air from Democratic-aligned independent groups helping Nolan. Those ads are still running on other stations.
“It’s turning negative already,” said John Ongaro, a St. Louis County worker and DFL activist in the Eighth Congressional District.
Ongaro agreed the race is a tossup, saying he “wouldn’t put money on either candidate right now.”
View from other races
Republicans are also hoping to unseat Democratic U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson in the Seventh Congressional District, though their candidate, state Sen. Torrey Westrom, is a fundraising laggard compared with his peers.
Westrom has $284,000 cash on hand to Peterson’s $757,000.
Minnesota House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, a Republican from Crown with his eye on winning the House seats for Republicans, said competition at the top of the ticket from federal candidates will help Republicans down the ballot.
“We think that [Senate] race being on the radar will drive turn out in center and center right people,” Daudt said. “We, of course, want that race to be competitive … That means a lot of national resources will flow in and all of those resources will help us.”