Republican candidate for governor Jeff Johnson blasted Gov. Mark Dayton on Tuesday for what he called "breathtaking incompetence," after it was revealed that the insurance company that sold more policies on MNsure than any other is pulling out of the exchange.
MNsure officials confirmed Tuesday that PreferredOne, the choice of nearly six in 10 consumers who have bought plans on the exchange, would no longer participate. Insurers are expected to release their 2015 MNsure rates in early October.
"Mark Dayton was desperate to be the first governor in the country to implement Obamacare in Minnesota through MNsure," Johnson said at a Capitol news conference. "He got to handpick his board and handpick his staff and it has been an unmitigated disaster since day one."
Johnson suggested that PreferredOne pulled out because it was offering artificially low rates on its plans under pressure from Dayton's administration. Jeremy Drucker, spokesman for Dayton's re-election campaign, called that ridiculous.
"Of course, administration officials encouraged insurers on MNsure to provide the lowest rates possible to the people of Minnesota," Drucker said. "However, the companies were solely responsible for the rates they decided to offer."
Dayton has owned up to MNsure's struggles. He apologized to consumers who struggled to buy coverage through the glitch-ridden website, and earlier this month he called MNsure's troubled launch the single biggest disappointment of his first term as governor.
Johnson said if elected, his first goal would be winning a federal waiver that would allow Minnesota to pull out of conforming to the Affordable Care Act. If that's not successful, Johnson said, he would seek to replace MNsure's board of directors and its leadership staff. He also said he'd try to increase competition among those companies selling plans on the site.
Drucker predicted that if Johnson is elected, he would seek changes that undermine MNsure's mission of boosting insurance coverage rates.
"This would be devastating to Minnesotans," Drucker said.
Minnesota Sen. Al Franken and his Republican challenger Mike McFadden have agreed to three debates leading up to the election.
The first of the debates will take place in Duluth, followed by two in the metro just before the Nov. 4 election. They are as follows:
• Duluth News Tribune/Duluth Area Chamber of Commerce: 8-9 a.m. Wednesday, Oct. 1
• WCCO TV: 10-11 a.m. Sunday, Oct. 26
• Minnesota Public Radio: 7-8 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 2
Franken spokeswoman Alexandra Fetissoff said that, including a FarmFest candidate forum that took place in July, the Senator will have participated in four debates—the same amount that took place in the 2012 Senate race between Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Republican challenger Kurt Bills.
The McFadden campaign maintainst three isn't enough. McFadden challenged Franken last month to six debates throughout the state, including in Rochester and Moorhead as well as a Twin Cities Public Television debate in the metro. McFadden spokeswoman Becky Alery said the campaign will continue to push for more debates with Franken, particularly in greater Minnesota.
“We've been seeing throughout this campaign that Sen. Franken has continued to hide from Minnesotans, while Mike has traveled the state and talked to Minnesotans from top to bottom.”
Alery added that, with early voting, it’s important Minnesotans have the opportunity to hear from the candidates more than a week before election day.
The newly-finalized schedule coincides with a newly-released ad by the McFadden campaign that calls out Franken as “the invisible senator” and features McFadden facing off with an empty podium adorned with a Franken campaign sign. View it here.
UPDATE: The Franken campaign shot back in response to the ad.
"This ad is absurd," Fetissoff said in a statement. "Minnesotans know that Al Franken is working hard for us here in our state and has delivered concrete results for us in the Senate. Investment banker Mike McFadden is more interested in playing political games than solving the real problems that Minnesota families face."
The Minnesota DFL Party is releasing a television ad hamming Republican candidate for governor Jeff Johnson on education.
The ad is part of $1 million ad campaign the party is planning to support DFL Gov. Mark Dayton's re-election.
The DFL's television campaign is one of the largest so far in the low-profile governor's race.
Dayton has reserved ad time for later this month. Johnson, whose campaign has had less money in the bank, said over the weekend that he hopes to be on the air as well by the end of the this month.
The DFL ad gives the appearance of a positive ad, featuring happy music and parents talking about education, but attacks Johnson largely on decade-old votes he took in the Legislature and praises Dayton.
"It seems like schools are not Jeff Johnson's priority," Jennifer Nelson, a teacher who is clearly pregnant, says in the ad.
Johnson, who is now a Hennepin County commissioner, served in the Minnesota House from 2001 to 2006. When he first joined the Legislature he had said that education was one of his top priorities.
It still is a top priority, Johnson communications director Jeff Bakken said.
"Unlike Mark Dayton, Jeff was educated entirely in Minnesota public schools and his kids are being educated entirely in Minnesota public schools," Bakken said. "Jeff repeatedly voted to increase education funding as a legislator. Like most Minnesotans, Jeff also knows that there is a lot more to education than just spending."
Earlier this month, big spending Alliance for a Better Minnesota also released a television ad hammering the Republican candidate on education.
That the two Democratic groups picked the same issue to blast over the airwaves should be no surprise.
For years, Democrats have participated in a polling and research consortium, called Project Lakes and Plains, that allows them to share information.
The result is they read from the same playbook and that playbook says in the midterm election that Minnesota voters care deeply about education issues. By July, Minnesota Democratic campaigns had paid Project Lakes and Plains nearly $200,000.
It is not clear whether the Minnesota Republican Party, which is still recovering from a previous administration's debt, will run any television ads this year on Johnson's behalf.
Last week, Republican Party spokesman Brittni Palke, said: "The MNGOP will not be announcing an ad buy." But did not clarify whether that statement means the party would not announce an ad buy in advance or would not make an ad buy this year.
Here's the new DFL ad:
Data editor Glenn Howatt contributed to this report.
HBO host Bill Maher is targeting U.S. Rep. John Kline as the Republican lawmaker he wants to oust from Congress in his "Flip a District" challenge.
The comedian and political satirist announced the "winning loser” during a live broadcast of HBO's "Real Time with Bill Maher" in Washington, D.C., on Friday.
“John Kline doesn’t say kooky things, but he votes just like the people who do,” Maher said.
Calling him the “champion of for-profit colleges,” Maher said he targeted Kline, chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, for voting to repeal the Affordable Care Act more than times and siding against gay marriage and a minimum wage increase.
In 2012, Maher donated $1 million to a political action committee devoted to President Obama’s re-election campaign. But the comedian could have a tough time unseating Kline, who's not a top Democratic target
Kline faces a rematch this year with former Democratic state Rep. Mike Obermueller.
“This news confirms what we’ve been hearing more and more of each day: folks in the [Second District] are tired of John Kline, and they’re ready to kick him out office,” Obermueller said in a statement. “People are fired up and are organizing across the district to remove him from a seat he’s become too comfortable in.”
Obermueller lost to Kline by eight points in 2012, but faces a much less favorable environment in a midterm election year when Kline is expected to coast to re-election.
Like Obermueller, Kline hopes to seize on the announcement as a rallying point. He’s aiming to raise $100,000 for television ads to counteract Maher’s campaign.
“As promised, Maher is turning his liberal guns on our districts and using his TV megaphone and million-dollar war chest to defeat me in November,” Kline wrote in an email to supporters.
“My opponent … is walking hand-in-hand with Maher and has practically named him his campaign manager, focusing on the #FlipADistrict campaign against me and doing whatever he can to pander to Maher and his extreme liberal friends.”
Viewers picked Kline as Maher's target, selecting him over three other House Republicans: Renee Ellmers of North Carolina, Blake Farenthold of Texas and Mike Coffman of Colorado.
Republican congressional candidate Stewart Mills III is standing by an attack ad that has drawn fire from a powerful Iron Range union.
Attacking Democratic U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan as an out-of-touch D.C. politician, the 60-second commercial suggests that he ignores labor interests in his northern Minnesota district.
"Rick Nolan doesn't have any sense of what's going on in northern Minnesota," said Steve Biondich, a steelworker from Aurora and treasurer of United Steelworkers Local 6115.
"Since Rick Nolan's been elected, I haven't seen him once in the Iron Range. He's gone to Washington. He's part of the problem. Jobs aren't being created. The wages aren't going up. People are having a hard time paying the bills."
High-ranking United Steelworker leaders took issue with Biondich’s claims, arguing that his statements are manufactured.
“Nobody has been a stronger advocate for the Iron Range than Rick Nolan. If Steve hasn’t seen Nolan on the Range then he has either been asleep or not paying attention,” said John Rebrovich, assistant to the director of the United Steelworkers’ nine-state District 11.
Mills campaign spokeswoman Chloe Rockow said: “Steve's comments in the ad are reflective of what we hear over and over again from Iron Rangers. Unlike Rick Nolan, Stewart Mills will put actions behind his words when he says he supports the Iron Range.”
In the spot, Biondich also urged voters to look past party affiliation when deciding which candidate is best for the Eighth Congressional District, but he’s a GOP supporter. He donated to the 2010 campaign of former GOP congressman Chip Cravaack, who Nolan unseated in 2012.
"The ad speaks for itself," Biondich wrote in an email to the Star Tribune.
Biondich, 33, also took heat from the DFL for postings on his Facebook page, including a suggestion that if a woman wants to walk down the aisle, “send that (expletive) grocery shopping.”
The state DFL hosted a rally in Duluth on Friday, with women demanding that Mills account for the content on Biondich’s social media page.
Biondich declined to comment his social media posts and directed questions to Rockow.
“While Stewart and his wife don't agree with the comments in question, I think it's hypocritical for Democrats to target Stewart here while Rick Nolan has campaigned with a convicted sex offender,” Rockow said.
Amid GOP criticism, Nolan ultimately canceled a planned fundraiser with Peter Yarrow, the singer from the 1960s band Peter, Paul and Mary, who admitted in 1970 to having improper relations with a 14-year-old girl.
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