With an insider’s eye, Hot Dish tracks the tastiest bits of Minnesota’s political scene and keep you up-to-date on those elected to serve you.

Contributors in Minnesota: Patrick Condon, J. Patrick Coolican, Patricia Lopez, Ricardo Lopez, Abby Simons, Rachel E. Stassen-Berger and Glen Stubbe. Contributors in D.C.: Corey Mitchell, Allison Sherry and Jim Spencer.

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Absentee ballots largely from regular voters, Democratic areas

Posted by: Rachel E. Stassen-Berger Updated: October 16, 2014 - 4:38 PM

Rachel E. Stassen-Berger and Glenn Howatt

Absentee ballots are streaming to election offices across the state but very few of those early voters are new voters, according to a Star Tribune analysis.

Only 5.6 percent of the nearly 34,000 voters who have already had ballots accepted did not vote in the last midterm election year, 2010. Another five percent did not vote in 2010 or 2012, the last presidential election year.

The analysis indicates that despite pushes from both Democrats and Republicans, new voters are not yet availing themselves of the law that allows anyone to vote by absentee.

About 34,000 people voted by absentee ballot as of Oct. 14. Another 6,000, in small, rural precincts, voted by mail.

Of the people who cast absentee ballots, 29 percent also voted absentee in both the 2010 and 2012 elections. Another 31 percent went to the polls in both of those election years.

The analysis also shows that more voters who have already had ballots counted come from Democratic areas than from Republican areas. By county, by Minnesota House district and even by precinct, more ballots are flowing in from areas that lean toward Democrats than lean toward Republicans.

Nearly half of absentee ballots have been cast by voters who live in Democratic House districts, 32 percent came from those in Republican House districts and about 19 percent came from swing districts.

Minnesota voters do not register by party so the Star Tribune does not have access to the personal politics of voters.

Keith Downey, chairman of the Minnesota Republican Party, and Ken Martin, chairman of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, have both been pouring over absentee voter list. Both parties have invested in identifying voters by party.

With that data, the DFL and the Republican Party have come up with different results.

Martin, the DFL chairman, said their numbers show that 59 percent of absentee ballots have been cast by voters they have identified as Democrats. Martin said many of those Democrats are infrequent voters -- exactly the demographic they have need to turnout if the DFL is to do well this year.

The Republican Party shows statewide 39 percent of absentee votes so far have come from Republicans, 36 percent came from Democrats and 25 percent came from independent or unidentified voters, Republican chair Downey said.

Across the state, significantly more voters are opting to vote absentee than had in the 2010 election, according to the secretary of state.

Compared to nearly 40,000 accepted ballots as of Wednesday, election officials had only accepted 23,000 absentee ballots by this point in the 2010 election.

This year for the first time, anyone who wants to vote absentee can do so regardless of whether they can show up at the polls on Election Day. Previously, voters would have to offer an excuse for why they needed to vote absentee.

Below, see the number of ballots already cast and accepted, by county.

Updated to reflect more specific numbers.

McFadden: Restrict travel, appoint cabinet member to address Ebola threat

Posted by: Abby Simons Updated: October 16, 2014 - 12:46 PM

Following disconcerting shortfalls revealed in the wake of a second nurse's Ebola diagnosis, U.S. Senate candidate Mike McFadden proposed steps to halt the spread of the deadly disease, which include mandatory quarantines and travel bans.

“We are not remotely prepared to deal with an Ebola outbreak in the United States,” McFadden said, adding that there are four state-of-the-art contamination centers in the country, each of which is equipped to hold just three to 10 patients. “As a result I believe we aggressively make sure that Ebola is not allowed to take hold and take root in the United States.”

McFadden, the Republican challenger to Sen. Al Franken, said the spread of Ebola is the currently the concern he’s heard more than any on the campaign trail, and proposes the following:

  • A temporary ban on travelers entering the U.S. who have recently been in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea. Aid workers would still be allowed to travel after a mandatory 21-day quarantine.
  • Boosting staffing at the Centers for Disease Control call centers to handle increased call volume from the public.
  • Lowering the CDC fever guidelines for people who have had contaqct with Ebola patients so that they may not travel with an elevated temperature.
  • Reiterating a call for President Obama to designate a cabinet member to coordinate the United States’ response to the disease.

McFadden compared President Obama’s reaction to the crisis a failure to be proactive, similar to when Islamic State militants beheaded the second of two American hostages last month. He also leveled criticism at Franken for a lack of action.

“They came back and said ‘We don’t have a strategy,’” he said. “I have the exact same feeling now that there is no strategy. The CDC allowed this nurse to get on a flight. That’s not acceptable. Someone needs to take responsibility for this.”

The country is currently without a U.S. Surgeon General, a position that requires confirmation by the U.S. Senate. Some Republicans have stood in opposition to Obama's current nominee, Dr. Vivek Murthy. McFadden wouldn't say whether he was concerned that Murthy hasn't been confirmed, and said it is only important that a cabinet member is in charge, and wouldn't say whether he would vote to confirm Murthy.

"The president can just appoint a cabinet member to take responsibility for the role of Ebola. That's the role of the president." he said.

In the wake of concerns about a possible walkout of Texas nurses staffed with caring for Ebola patients, and for the welfare of U.S. aid workers who continue to care for Ebola patients in west Africa, McFadden said he had empathy for the risk they’re taking. Reports Thursday say Obama may deploy National Guard troops to Africa to build Ebola treatment centers. McFadden said he would back this as long as troops were adequately protected.

“Here they are trying to help people that are gravely ill, and I think that what we’re seeing down in Dallas is the nurses have very little faith in the system, and the way we’re responding to things,” he said. “I would guess that they were told ‘We’re doing everything right in this hospital, you’re going to be adequately protected.’ And they weren’t. They lost trust in the system.”

Franken spokeswoman Alexandra Fetissoff shot back at McFadden, saying that while McFadden held a news conference, Franken "went to work," pushing for increased screening at Minneapolis-St. Paul International AIrport, ensuring Minnesota healthcare providers have the necessary federal resources and backing legislation to fight Ebola. He backs any steps that need to be taken to prevent further spread, she said.

“Senator Franken finds it outrageous and unacceptable that CDC allowed a nurse to fly after she had been exposed to the virus." Fetissoff said. "The CDC has acknowledged this was a mistake and that they are now immediately take steps to make sure that additional Ebola infections are prevented. He will be watching to make sure they do so and there should be consequences if they do not.”

McFadden unveils plan aimed at helping working families

Posted by: Ricardo Lopez Updated: October 16, 2014 - 3:00 PM

Republican senate candidate Mike McFadden on Wednesday released details of a plan he said will help working families balance work and child-rearing responsibilities. 

The plan is based on proposals formulated by the Young Guns Network, a national Republican group with ties to former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor. 

The Sunfish Lake investment banker is running against Sen. Al Franken, a Democrat. 

McFadden's plan calls for allowing hourly workers to opt for time off from work instead of being paid overtime. It also calls for expanding the child tax credit for middle-class families by offering a larger credit amount in the year of a child's birth. 

"Federal policies should support families' working and child care decisions," McFadden said in a statement. "Through these flexible policies, we can help the American family and the American economy thrive." 

The Young Guns Network in its proposal said the the Fair Labor Standards Act would need to be reformed, with tweaks to classification of hourly and salaried workers. The group argues that current labor classification rules are confusing for employers.

McFadden's proposal would also consolidate tax credits for early child care based on income. 

In a statement, Franken campaign spokeswoman Alexandra Fetissoff criticized McFadden's plan. 

"Senator Franken has been working hard on behalf of Minnesota families for five-plus years and now that we're 20 days out from the election, investment banker Mike McFadden has suddenly decided to offer token specifics on these issues," Fetissoff said. "Minnesotans cannot trust a candidate who says he wants to help working families but doesn't bother to do something as fundamental as provide health insurance to his own [campaign] employees."

McFadden campaign spokeswoman Becky Alery dismissed the charge about healthcare coverege for campaign employees calling it "a political attack" that ignored McFadden's proposal. 

The issue emerged last summer and Tom Erickson, McFadden's deputy campaign manager, said then: "We compensate our employees in a way that allows them to purchase their own insurance plans that fit their needs."

Today in the governor's race: Dayton in northern Minn., Johnson fundraising

Posted by: Patrick Condon Updated: October 15, 2014 - 8:53 AM

The day after the debate in Duluth between Gov. Mark Dayton and Republican Jeff Johnson, it's a quiet day on the campaign trail in the race.

Dayton, whose campaign debuted its third TV ad on Tuesday, has no public campaign stops on his schedule Wednesday. But he's got a couple of northern Minnesota appearances on his official schedule: at the University of Minnesota Crookston, at the grand opening of a sewer treatment facility in Chisholm, and at the dedication of a public library in Ely. 

Dayton is also meeting privately in the afternoon with leaders of Essar Steel in Hibbing. 

Johnson does not have plans to appear publicly on Wednesday. His campaign said he would be fundraising and doing media interviews. 

Dayton, Johnson go head-to-head in Duluth debate

Posted by: Patrick Condon Updated: October 15, 2014 - 8:54 AM

DULUTH -- The Minnesota Vikings stadium, MNsure and mining were among the topics at Tuesday morning's debate between Gov. Dayton and Jeff Johnson, the Republican who wants his job. 

The third debate of this race, at the Duluth Playhouse, was also the first to feature only Dayton and Johnson. The debate's organizers at the Duluth Chamber of Commerce did not invite Independence Party candidate Hannah Nicollet to participate, making it the first gubernatorial debate in years not to feature a major third-party candidate. 

It allowed Dayton and Johnson to turn more sharply toward each other. The debate never got ugly, but both candidates got in a few solid hits on his opponent. 

"I don't recall ever calling you a 'wacko,'" Dayton said to Johnson, after the Republican said Dayton had called him both a wacko and a huckster. Dayton didn't take issue with the second part. 

"I do think hucksters are people who promise things unrealistically for selfish advantage," Dayton said.

This exchange came during a discussion of the proposed PolyMet copper and nickel mine near Hoyt Lakes on the Iron Range. Johnson charged that Dayton's administration purposely prolonged the environmental review process in order to kill the project. 

"This governor is beholden to what I would call some pretty extreme environmental groups who don’t want to see any mining in this state," Johnson said. He argued that the only way to ensure the project goes ahead is to elect him. 

The PolyMet proposal has generated plenty of controversy in northeastern Minnesota, sparking conflicts over the job opportunities versus the potential that contaminated runoff from the facility could make its way into Lake Superior.

Backers have been seeking state approval for nearly a decade. That stretches back further than Dayton's, and he said it's taken too long. But he said to short-circuit the environmental review now, in its final stages, would be irresponsible. 

"We need to be able to tell Minnesotans what they can reasonably expect with this undertaking," Dayton said. 

There are two more scheduled debates in this race: Oct. 19 and Oct. 31, both in St. Paul.  


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