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.: Allison Sherry and Jim Spencer.

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Rep. John Kline: Campaign trail feels good

Posted by: Allison Sherry Updated: October 26, 2014 - 5:32 PM

LAKEVILLE -- Despite Bill Maher, GOP Rep. John Kline feels good. 

Kline canvassed neighborhoods here Saturday with state Senate candidate Jon Koznick saying he felt good about his odds of beating Democrat Mike Obermueller.

Kline's 2nd Congressional District was targeted by HBO liberal television host Bill Maher in his "flip a district" contest. Maher targeted Kline's conservative votes and that the bulk of his campaign contributions come from for-profit colleges. Kline is chairman of the House Education and Workforce Committee.

"At a time of frustration and gridlock, I've been able to deliver and get legislation passed. People really like that message because they are frustrated with what they think is gridlock. People have more mistrust in their government than maybe any other time in my lifetime," Kline said, over burgers after canvassing. "I feel like I've been able to convey to them that they can trust me."

Maher visited Northfield in October to tout his "flip a district" contest and why he wanted Kline out. He hasn't been back to Minnesota for any public appearances.

Kline said over the weekend Maher's effort "seems to have fizzled."

"It may have worked in reverse because it turns out I've run into a lot of people who do not like Bill Maher," he said.

Obermueller's message is that Kline is too conservative for the district, which narrowly supported President Barack Obama in 2012. He says Kline's partisanship is to blame for the gridlock in Congress. 

"You can't give Congressman Kline a pass on the problems he and his Republican colleagues have caused in Washington DC. Voters have 100% control over their own representation, and they can choose a better representative in November," an Obermueller spokesman said, in a statement.  

McFadden, Franken spar over Ebola, Obama health law

Posted by: Allison Sherry Updated: October 26, 2014 - 2:13 PM

Democratic Sen. Al Franken and his GOP challenger faced off on Ebola, siding with President Barack Obama, health care and McFadden’s business background in a spirited debate on CBS News Sunday that, at times, had the two candidates yelling at each other.

 
Much of the debate — both candidates sat at a desk facing WCCO moderators — was punctuated by the candidates interrupting each other as they wrestled to answer questions on some of the most complex issues of the day: how to handle Islamic extremists, how to fix the Affordable Care Act and whether the United States should enact a travel ban from west Africa because of the Ebola virus.

Franken attempted to paint McFadden, a Sunfish Lake businessman, as inexperienced and unprepared to handle the rigors and quick decisiveness required to be a U.S. Senator. McFadden tarred Franken with his 97 percent voting record with President Barack Obama, saying he is part of the partisan problem in Washington.

“I won’t be a rubber stamp for any president,” McFadden said. “It’s an issue because I think this president is leading in the wrong direction … I haven’t met anyone who agrees with another person 97 percent of the time.”

Franken said the bulk of the votes counted are nominations and other smaller matters and that he votes “for Minnesota.” 

The two had several volleys before Franken warmed up to full-throated attacks on McFadden’s campaign to unseat him. Franken called him out for not having adequate answers to foreign policy questions and slammed McFadden’s business background, calling him responsible for layoffs and so-called inversions, which allow companies to move operations overseas.

“This is a job where you have to answer questions in real time,” Franken said. “You can’t take cheap shots from the bleachers.”

On fighting Islamic extremists, McFadden said he was disappointed in Obama’s “leading from behind” on the issue. He called Franken’s letter sent earlier this year to the U.S. Department of Justice asking for additional support in Minnesota a “meager, meager effort.”

Franken called the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria “barbaric” and said he supported a limited bombing campaign in Syria and Iraq to fight ISIS. He said he has been in touch by the Federal Bureau of Investigation since 2009 on Islamic recruitment of young people from Minnesota.

He said McFadden didn’t talk about foreign policy for the first 10 months of his campaign to unseat him.
“There wasn’t anything from you,” Franken said, looking McFadden in the eye. “In the first 10 months of his campaign there was not a word about foreign policy, about terrorism, about public health ... He ducked. And the reason why he ducked was because it is a difficult political decision.”

On Ebola, Franken struggled with answering whether he supported a travel ban, finally saying after being pressed three times that he had “nothing against it” but that he believed it would be insufficient because the majority of travelers from west Africa don’t fly to the United States directly. McFadden said he supports a temporary travel ban, which many international experts call ineffective.

When asked whether he was satisfied with Obama’s handling of Ebola, Franken said, “No, and I don’t think he is either.”

On Obamacare, Franken acknowledged problems with the implementation but said 95 percent of Minnesotans now have health insurance, thanks to the law. He called McFadden’s idea to scrap the plan and put states in charge impractical.

McFadden said states are “laboratories for experiments” and that they — not the federal government — should decide whether to implement an individual mandate.

The GOP candidate said Franken was lying about his company’s involvement with the restructuring of Smurfit Stone, a Montana mill, which closed and laid off 417 workers in 2009.

Once Franken’s campaign began running ads last week on Smurfit, McFadden’s company, Lazard Middle Market, took the deal off its website.

“If you’re a CEO and you don’t take responsiblity for what your company does, what are you going to do as a senator?” Franken said. “Aren’t you embarrassed?”

McFadden said his company didn’t have anything to do with the Smurfit deal. A campaign spokesman said McFadden ran Lazard Middle Market, while the company responsible for the Smurfit layoffs was called Lazard Frères.

In remarks after the debate, McFadden said he didn’t know why details of the Smurfit deal were scrubbed from Lazard’s website this week, right after Franken began running negative ads about it, saying he is on a leave from the company.

“I would encourage you to call Lazard tomorrow and ask them,” he told reporters.

McFadden said he has tried to keep the tone positive during the campaign and was “disappointed” Franken had spent millions damaging his reputation.

“Minnesotans are so sick of these attacks,” McFadden said.

Democrats allege Torrey Westrom took government perks too

Posted by: Allison Sherry Updated: October 21, 2014 - 3:51 PM

WASHINGTON – National Republicans have spent more than $4 million on ads portraying Democratic Rep. Collin Peterson as a man of Washington, a veteran House member who got the federal government to reimburse him for flying his private plane around, lease a couple cars and take junkets.

On Tuesday, state DFL leaders fought back pointing out his GOP opponent Torrey Westrom has also cashed in on publicly supported perks and reimbursements while serving in the state legislature.

“If Sen. Westrom is going to remain silent while out of state groups smear Rep. Peterson, it’s time to hold him accountable for his record of profiting from the taxpayers,” said DFL Chair Ken Martin, in a statement.

Martin pointed out Westrom was named the seventh-highest expense collector in the Minnesota Senate in 2013 — more than doubling his annual salary in per diems, mileage, housing and travel expenses.

From 2002 to 2014, Westrom received $98,477 in per diem payments, according to state House and Senate records compiled by Democrats. In that same timeframe, he received $54,000 in district travel expenses and $119,000 on lodging expenses and $47,000 on mileage expenses.

The National Republican Congressional Committee said from 2005 to 2013, Peterson, who is running for his 13th term, spent $73,976 on money to lease two vehicles. In that same time period, Peterson reimbursed himself $139,481 in privat auto mileage and gasoline, which includes $21,535 in rembursements for his plane.

Polls have been up and down in this race, but most show Westrom and Peterson within a few points of each other. Fifty percent of voters surveyed by KSTP Oct. 3 - Oct. 6 said they supported Peterson and 41 percent said they supported Westrom with 10 percent still undecided. Then a GOP poll out last week put Westrom ahead 44-43, with 13 percent still undecided.

“This is more evidence that Democrats are worried about keeping 12-term incumbent Collin Peterson’s seat,” said Caitlin Carroll, Westrom spokeswoman in an e-mailed statement. “The facts are Congressman Peterson no longer represents western Minnesota’s values and has lost touch with this district.”

National Republican Congressional Committee spokesman Tyler Houlton said: “I imagine Democrats in the state legislature will be pretty furious with DFL Chairman Martin for condemning his own party’s use of per diems that help them better represent their constituents."

Peterson’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment.

GOP poll: Westrom and Peterson neck and neck

Posted by: Allison Sherry Updated: October 16, 2014 - 3:18 PM

WASHINGTON -- A new internal GOP poll puts Seventh Congressional District Republican candidate Torrey Westrom within striking distance of veteran Democratic Rep. Collin Peterson.

The poll, released Thursday by Westrom's campaign, shows Westrom at 44 and Peterson at 43 percent approval, with 13 percent of people still undecided. This is a four-point gain for Westrom in six weeks.

Peterson was elected to Congress in 1990. Westrom is a state lawmaker.

The poll's margin of error is plus or minus 5.8 points and was based on a telephone survey of 300 "likely" voters Oct. 12 - 14.

On the Senate trail today: Women's health and Ebola

Posted by: Allison Sherry Updated: October 16, 2014 - 10:47 AM

WASHINGTON -- GOP Senate candidate Mike McFadden continued to message on ebola Thursday, criticizing President Barack Obama's handling of the escalating threat of the disease in the United States.

McFadden supports a temporary travel ban on travelers entering the United States who have recently been to Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. He also wants Obama to designate a cabinet level member to deal with the crisis.

Meanwhile, Democratic Sen. Al Franken hosts a roundtable in St. Paul with Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund to talk about choice and "partisan initiatives affecting women's health."

The roundtable will include state Rep. Erin Murphy, the House Majority Leader and Erin Dad, chief of staff to Mayor Chris Coleman of St. Paul.

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