Minnesota U.S. Sen. Al Franken won a resounding re-election victory Tuesday, defeating Republican challenger Mike McFadden, a businessman making his first run at political office.
“I am so honored and so humbled and so grateful to the people of Minnesota,” Franken told a chanting, cheering crowd at a downtown Minneapolis election party. “Thank you for taking a chance on me six years ago. And thank you for giving me the chance to keep working for you in Washington.”
Franken’s easy victory was a stunning contrast to his 2008 razor-thin win against former GOP Sen. Norm Coleman. That came only after an excruciating eight-month recount and a margin of just 312 votes.
While bands played and drinks were poured at DFL Party election headquarters at the Minneapolis Hilton, party Chairman Ken Martin called Franken’s win “a really sweet victory, to be able to go to bed tonight and not have to wake up to a recount, knowing that he’s going to be a U.S. senator again.”
Franken’s triumph ran counter to the Republican wave of victories that emerged across the country Tuesday night, culminating when GOP clinched control of the U.S. Senate. That seismic shift in political power in congress will create a new and uncertain role for Franken when he returns to Washington in the minority.
“It’s going to be different,” Franken said. “But I’ve also received a couple of calls from Republican colleagues saying let’s work together.”
Franken said he hopes that the change in Senate control will not mean more gridlock in Washington.
“I hope that we can get things done,” Franken said. “There are lots of things that we have to work on that really shouldn’t be partisan.”
Specifically, he cited the upcoming debates over transportation legislation, authorizing military force in Syria and immigration.
Across downtown at GOP election headquarters at the Loews Hotel, McFadden, surrounded by subdued family members, conceded the race to Franken without mentioning the victor by name.
“It would be more fun if I was up here giving you a victory speech, but I’m not,” McFadden said. He said he had tried his hardest, adding: “I ran the race I wanted to run.”
McFadden did note some bright spots. “The party is in much better shape today than it was two years ago,” he said. “The progress we made is very, very hopeful, but we got a long ways to go.”
Republicans also lost the governor’s race to incumbent Mark Dayton.
The final push
Earlier in the day, McFadden said he didn’t feel nervous about the returns. “It’s not a load off my shoulders, it’s a feeling of pride,” he said. “I’m so proud and thankful to have had the opportunity to do this. It’s an honor.”
Franken, who spent recent days traversing the state and metro area on DFL bus tours, began his morning at the University of Minnesota, followed by a 10 a.m. stop at his polling place at a downtown Minneapolis church with his wife by his side. Franken cast his vote then left, carrying his grandson, Joe.
Franken had been seen as a ripe target by Republicans ever since he narrowly defeated Coleman. He had been the subject of several attacks by national Republican groups.
Money had been pouring into the race, more than $20 million from all 50 states. Franken’s $18 million haul tripled McFadden’s fundraising.
Franken never trailed in the polls, yet McFadden had been surging and had climbed to within a 9-point deficit, according to the latest Star Tribune Minnesota Poll.
The candidates took starkly different approaches. Franken’s campaign waited until after the August primary to even use his rival’s name, and then launched blistering attacks on McFadden’s business record, claiming he was behind business deals that resulted in massive layoffs and corporate relocating overseas so avoid taxes.
McFadden largely ignored his GOP primary opponents in favor of focusing on Franken as the embodiment of what’s wrong with Washington. The CEO of Lazard Middle Market touted his business experience by describing himself as a professional “problem solver.”
Early in the campaign, McFadden focused on portraying himself as an everyman with irreverent and polarizing advertisements, including one that garnered a lot of attention when he received a shot to the groin by one of his young football players. The advertisements increasingly became edgier as McFadden sharpened his attacks on Franken for what became his key campaign refrain: that Franken voted with President Obama 97 percent of the time.
In their final debate, the candidates found themselves agreeing on a number of issues, from Obama’s handling of controlled airstrikes against ISIL militants to maintaining free and open access to the Internet.
In a move to gain some bipartisan appeal, McFadden repeatedly touted Minnesota’s senior senator, Democrat Amy Klobuchar, as being a stateswoman. Meanwhile, Franken offered his work with more than a dozen Republican senators as an example of his bipartisanship in Washington.
The fighting continued when the McFadden campaign on Monday filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission, saying that there was coordination between Franken’s campaign and the Independence USA Political Action Committee and that there were ads by each containing the same footage and messaging. The Franken campaign called the complaint “desperate.”
“This is a silly complaint by a desperate campaign trying to change the dynamic of a race,” said Marc Elias, the campaign’s lawyer.
Staff writers Eric Roper, Kelly Smith, Karen Zamora and Liz Sawyer contributed to this report.