– Fresh off a primary victory, Republican U.S. Senate candidate Mike McFadden returned to the campaign trail with a centrist message Wednesday that aimed as much criticism at Republicans in Washington as it did his Democratic opponent, Sen. Al Franken.

But the visit to the St. Cloud Chamber of Commerce also produced a stumble that had McFadden quickly backpedaling on whether he would support a higher federal gasoline tax to replenish the nearly depleted U.S. Department of Transportation Highway Trust Fund.

Under questioning from a local reporter, McFadden initially said he would support a higher gasoline tax if revenues were cut elsewhere, so that the total amount of taxes from all sources would not rise.

“Yeah, as long as it was revenue-neutral so that in the aggregate there’s not a tax increase to the American public,” McFadden said in response to the question.

He took another question on a different topic and left with a pair of campaign staffers. Seconds later he reappeared and addressed reporters again.

“I just want to reiterate that I will not support raising the gas tax,” McFadden said. A reporter then said, “I’m sorry, I thought you said you would as long as there was a corresponding decrease …”

“No, I won’t,” McFadden interjected.

The reporter then said, “No support? So how would you …”

A McFadden staffer jumped in and said, “We gotta go.”

Later in the day, McFadden called reporters and said he wanted to clarify his position.

“What I didn’t want to do is support an increase in the gas tax because I don’t think that’s the right long-term solution,” he said.

Although he wasn’t specific, McFadden reiterated that overhauling the federal tax codes could free up money for transportation projects.

The reporter’s questioning followed up on a chamber member’s inquiry about what the government would do to pay for improvements to the nation’s aging transportation system. McFadden, an investment banker from Sunfish Lake, responded by saying only that the federal tax code should be overhauled.

“Let’s be driven by two guiding principles, simplicity and transparency, and dramatically revise the tax code,” he said. “In terms of revision of that, you’ve got to decide what your priorities are. Transportation absolutely is something that is a priority.”

McFadden repeated his criticisms of Franken for voting with President Obama 97 percent of the time and for being one of the driving lawmakers behind the implementation of the Affordable Care Act.

But McFadden didn’t confine his critique to Franken.

“Republicans, Democrats; we’re losing,” he said. “What’s coming out of Congress is horrendous. I don’t care if it was a Republican president or a Democrat president. It’s horrendous. It’s bad.”

“Republicans, we don’t take responsibility because we can’t get anything done because we can’t work with the president,” McFadden said. “The president says we can’t get anything done because we have this obstinate, Republican-controlled Congress. Well guess what? This is America. Over 200 years ago we signed up for a rule of government called democracy, which means you’re not going to have one-party rule.”

Former state Rep. Tom Emmer, who on Tuesday became his party’s Sixth Congressional District candidate, said that during his six years at the Legislature, he got along better with Democrats than Republicans because he knew what to expect from DFLers.

“Every time I saw Republicans creating more government, creating more burdens for the average citizen to have to carry on his or her back to have to succeed, I got more frustrated because that was not something I was used to,” Emmer said.

“This job is not about going along to get along.”