With ads and fair fuss, Minnesota's Senate race heats up

This time, the GOP challenger is turning on the heat as Franken stays cool

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Top: GOP Senate candidate Mike McFadden laughed with Larry and Evy Walters of Brooklyn Park in the State Fair Cattle Barn. At bottom, Sen. Al Franken is constantly asked by supporters is they can have their pictures taken with him at the State Fair.

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The senator has been too partisan, the challenger decried. He’s made distasteful jokes, McFadden stressed for weeks. Franken has not agreed to enough debates, McFadden said.

“People need to hear our different visions,” McFadden said Friday in one of his daily appearances at the fair. “He’s been invisible as a senator and now he’s trying to be invisible as a candidate.”

The Republican hoping to unseat one of the nation’s best-funded and best-known senators has worked hard to garner the attention he will need to make the climb to the Senate.

Franken, who has raised more for his re-election bid than nearly any other senator, is making that difficult. Franken has kept his campaign low-key and workmanlike, in keeping with the head-down path he has cut in office. While fundraising as if his election is deeply threatened, Franken’s campaign has paid as little attention to McFadden as possible.

As Labor Day arrives, national money groups have not yet focused on the 2014 Minnesota race and a recent poll found Franken’s job approval rating at its highest level yet.

That’s in stark contrast to the bare-knuckled 2008 Senate brawl that ended with Franken winning his seat by 312 votes.

Then, Franken and Republican Sen. Norm Coleman waged a daily, titanic battle in one of the closest and most bitterly fought races in the country. They clashed over issues big and small, fueled by millions of dollars that poured in from national interest groups. As early as July of that year, the two campaigns were engaged in verbal hand-to-hand combat, with each candidate attacking the other by name.

This year, Franken has mostly ignored his competitor, choosing instead to invest millions of dollars on an ad campaign recapping his first term in Washington. At the State Fair, Franken poses for selfies with would-be voters and has kept a quiet campaign schedule.

After a daily barrage of news releases and social media broadsides from the McFadden camp on a 2012 video of Franken using orange traffic cones to mimic breasts, Franken did voice his regret this week at his behavior lapse. Also this week, for the first time, Franken released a campaign ad that mentions McFadden by name.

In the latest broadcast foray from the former “Saturday Night Live” comedian, the Franken ad claims McFadden’s broadcast ads “try to be funny, while they attack Al Franken.” The ad goes on to say that Franken has been working with Republicans and “getting results for Minnesota.”

Explaining the reasoning behind the ad, Franken spokeswoman Alexandra Fetissoff said the campaign feels that McFadden has misled Minnesotans and “voters deserve to know the truth about Sen. Franken’s record of bipartisan accomplishment.” According to the Washington Post, Franken, along with 10 other Democratic senators, voted along party lines 99 percent of the time.

Last week McFadden launched his third broadcast ad, after airing one in which he appears to be hit in the groin by a young football player and another where he brags about taking his son’s stitches out to save on the medical bill. The newest ad features a Franken look-alike repeatedly trying unsuccessfully to back a trailered boat down a ramp, saying Franken “missed the mark” by voting with Obama.

On Friday, McFadden hit again on the issue of partisanship.

“He has not been a statesman who has reached across party lines,” McFadden said. “That’s who he is — just tell the Minnesota public.”

Asked at the fair Friday if he could name three major bills Senate Republicans supported that he would not have supported, McFadden declined.

“I want to talk about what I’m going to do when I get there,” he said. Asked for one issue about which he would disagree with Republicans, McFadden’s deputy campaign manager Tom Erickson called for last question and McFadden said that he would work with Democrats to improve education.

McFadden later called a Star Tribune reporter to name three issues on which he thought Republicans were wrong.

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  • GOP Senate candidate Mike McFadden laughed with Larry and Evy Walters of Brooklyn Park in the State Fair Cattle Barn. Larry Walters then asked if he could see son Connor's scar from where Mike removed the stitches, featured in his current Television ad. ] Falcon Heights , MN -- Thursday, August 28, 2014. GLEN STUBBE * gstubbe@startribune.com

  • Stumping for votes: Sen. Al Franken, top, posed with a supporter at the State Fair. Below, his Republican challenger, Mike McFadden, chatted up a voter. McFadden is stressing Franken’s voting record, which he says almost always follows the Democratic party line.

  • Republican Senate candidate Mike McFadden, left, laughed with Larry and Evy Walters of Brooklyn Park recently at the State Fair Cattle Barn. Sen. Al Franken fought a tight race in 2008 with former Sen. Norm Coleman, including a recount, but now has a high enough approval rating to make McFadden’s challenge difficult. Both are receiving large donations from beyond the state’s borders.

  • Senator Al Franken is constantly asked by supporters is they can have their pictures taken with him at the State Fair. ] Falcon Heights , MN -- Thursday, August 28, 2014. GLEN STUBBE * gstubbe@startribune.com

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