By Allison Sherry
With help from Rachel Stassen-Berger
WASHINGTON -- Democratic Sens. Al Franken and Amy Klobuchar joined a chorus Friday in criticizing the Veterans Administration and pressed the regional office on wait times for medical appointments in Minnesota's clinics and hospitals.
"The incidents that have been reported at VA facilities in Arizona and elsewhere are outrageous and entirely unacceptable," the two wrote in a letter to Janet Murphy, network director for the VA Midwest Health Care Network in Minnesota.
Franken and Klobuchar specifically asked Murphy for the average number of days veterans must wait to receive appointments at every VA facility in Minnesota.
One of Franken's GOP opponents Mike McFadden pinged the senator earlier Friday for keeping quiet on the VA scandal, in which more than two dozen hospitals and clinics face allegations of long wait times and false record-keeping. In Phoenix, there are allegations the missteps caused multiple deaths.
"Criticizing mergers and talking about Internet fast lanes may generate headlines for Sen. Franken, but it does nothing to guarantee that our veterans have access to quality healthcare when they need it," said McFadden, in an e-mailed statement. He also called for Shinseki's resignation. "Minnesota doesn't need any more out-of-touch politicians like Al Franken."
Franken's office said that two weeks ago, in the wake of the news about several alleged incidents at VA medical centers in Arizona and elsewhere, the senator directed his office to contact the Department of Veterans Affairs to find more information about the wait times for medical care.
Franken and Klobuchar's letter went out the same day Democratic Rep. Rick Nolan called for VA Secretary Eric Shinseki's resignation.
Democratic Reps. Collin Peterson and Tim Walz didn't go that far Friday, instead calling for a "national review" of all VA medical facilities. Walz is a veteran and member of the Veteran's Affairs committee.
GOP Rep. Erik Paulsen has not called for resignation. Rep. John Kline scribed an op-ed on VA issues earlier this week in a local paper, which stopped short of calling for a resignation. Rep. Michele Bachmann, on Fox News, called for his resignation.
All week, Minnesota Republican Congressional candidates blasted Democrats on the scandal. On Thursday, Republican 7th Congressional District candidate Torrey Westrom and 8th Congressional District Stewart Mills also called for Shinseki’s resignation. First District Republican Jim Hagedorn’s campaign sent out a release titled, “Obama-Walz have let down veterans."
Hank Sadler, chair of Veterans for Walz, sharply criticized the "partisan" attacks.
"It's despicable that Republicans running for Congress would use veterans' lives in a blatant attempt to score cheap political points. They should be ashamed," he said, in an email.
First District Republican Aaron Miller had also blasted Walz on May 21, with a release titled, "Our veterans deserve better, President Obama and Congressman Walz are failing them."
On May 27, Kline said: "General Shinseki is a decorated Vietnam veteran and I appreciate his service to our country, but the entire leadership of the VA must be held accountable which is why I’m calling on him to resign – and if he doesn’t, the President should relieve him of his duties."
WASHINGTON -- Mike Obermueller's latest ad is certainly not the Democratic cookie cutter approach to winning an election this fall.
Taking pot shots at his GOP incumbent opponent Rep. John Kline in the 2nd Congressional District, Obermueller is actually running on the Affordable Care Act.
In a goofy one-minute ad that shows a bunch of men and women dancing around an office, Obermueller says his opponent's repeated criticism, including his multiple defunding votes, of the new health care law is "music" to the ears of insurance executives.
"If Congress repeals Obamacare, insurance companies will go back to charging whatever they want, charging women more for health coverage, denying coverage for pre-existing conditions and even dropping coverage when you get sick," a man's voice intones, while supposed insurance executives party down between file cabinets and conference tables. "If John Kline got his way, 11 million Americans would lose their coverage."
The ad will have limited viewers because it's a very small buy on cable only. A Republican source said the one-minute ad will run three times on MSNBC, costing the campaign $400.
Obermueller said Friday he would like to raise more money to keep the ad up for as long as possible and buy some time on network television. None of Minnesota's network stations, KMSP, KSTP, WCCO or KARE report any Obermueller buys, according to the Federal Communications Commission.
"Republicans have had the microphone for too long alone on this issue," Obermueller said. "We need to work to improve and fix this law ... not repeal it."
Obermueller's unique approach embracing Obamacare could prove risky in a state where it still isn't polling well. In a Suffolk University Political Research Center poll out April 29, 45 percent of Minnesotans called the law "generally bad" for the state and 41 percent said the Affordable Care Act is "generally good."
Kline's spokesman said Friday that Obermueller was desperate to revive a failed campaign. Obermueller lost to Kline two years ago by 8 points.
"Mr. Obermueller is grasping at straws to do anything he can to resuscitate his failed campaign based on a track record of supporting billion-dollar tax increases on working families and voting to specifically tax our veterans and our seniors," said Troy Young, in a statement.
In the weekly Republican address, U.S. Rep. John Kline says President Obama and Senate Democrats should step up and match the GOP’s focus on bills designed to strengthen the economy.
Kline and a host of other House Republicans listed more than a dozen bills that have passed the GOP-controlled House, include those changing welfare regulations, offering more job training and education, curtailing patent litigation, scaling back regulations for small-business owners and building the Keystone XL pipeline.
The House overwhelmingly passed Kline’s charter school bill Friday. The legislation would provide $300 million annually to expand charter school. It would also fund state grants to expand and replicate high-quality charter schools.
“These are only some of the many bills we’ve passed to provide new hope to families, workers, and students across the country. More are in the works,” Kline, chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, said during the address.
“Because our focus, day in and day out, is on building a stronger economy and a better America. It’s time for President Obama and Senate Democrats to step up and make that their priority too. Thank you for listening, and of course, Happy Mother’s Day.”
Television and radio ads already airing to influence Minnesota voters in races for U.S. House, U.S. Senate and the governor's race and are unlikely to let up until Election Day.
Although the ads are coming late -- during the competitive U.S. Senate race in 2008 the air war was already months old by this point -- their appearance presages a barrage through November.
With potentially heated races for governor and U.S. Senate as Republicans work to wrest both offices from Democrats who won their first races by narrow margins, candidates and their allies will battle across the state's airwaves. National interests see the 8th Congressional District, which has flopped between Democratic and Republican control in recent years, as ripe for a turn over and therefore overdue for more ads.
In the governor's race, Republican Marty Seifert plans to launch his first ad this week, his campaign said on Wednesday. It is the first TV spot in the race that will determine whether DFL Gov. Mark Dayton keeps his job. Andy Post, Seifert's campaign manager, said the ad will run during the Minnesota Wild's Friday night game.
Seifert is in a pitched battle to woo Republicans at the party's endorsing convention this month and the GOP will likely also have a crowded primary in August. Businessman Scott Honour, another contender for Republican votes, has also been running radio ads.
Dayton, who has amassed larger campaign coffers than any of the Republicans running against him, has not yet started television ads. He is focused on the legislative session and unlike in his first election, does not face a primary. His campaign manager Katharine Tinucci said he has the resources to run ads when the time comes but, "that time is not now."
Minnesota viewers may see and hear more ads in the other statewide contest -- the race for the U.S. Senate.
In that race, the most significant candidate media spending has come from Democratic U.S. Sen. Al Franken. This week started a six figure television ad campaign. He has raised more than all but a few sitting senators so likely has the resources to keep it up.
Republican Senate candidate Mike McFadden started running cable ads a few weeks ago and Republican rival Julianne Ortman began radio ads late last month.
That's only a taste. When Franken first ran, he and then-Sen. Norm Coleman, spent millions on dozens of television ads blasting Minnesotans right until their recount began.
Outside groups are also gearing up. A conservative group launched an anti-Franken ad way back in March.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce included Republican U.S. House candidate Stewart Mills in its $3 million television ad campaign to jump-start Republican campaigns "and unite the business community around their efforts,” Scott Reed, the chamber’s senior political strategist, told the New York Times.
Minnesota’s Democrats and Republicans have selected their candidates to do congressional battle this year.
Over the last several months, activists have gathered in small meetings across the state to pick their favorites. Now their slates are complete.
In most districts, those picks are expected to have clear sailing to the general election. In at least one, the party-endorsed candidate will still face a primary.
In the map below, find out about this year's congressional combatants.
Graphic: Jamie Hutt, Star Tribune
Star Tribune staff reporter Allison Sherry contributed to this post.