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, and Glen Stubbe. Contributors in D.C.: Allison Sherry, Jim Spencer and intern Beena Raghavendran.

Posts about Minnesota U.S. senators

Democrats start final sprint to Election Day at State Capitol rally

Posted by: Patrick Condon Updated: October 29, 2014 - 10:52 AM

Minnesota's top Democrats gathered in front of the Capitol Wednesday morning to launch a six-day, 31-stop bus tour of the state that's aimed at firing up the party's supporters and motivating them to vote next Tuesday. 

Gov. Mark Dayton and Sen. Al Franken, both of whom face voters next week, joined with the party's other statewide candidates, members of Congress and congressional candidates, legislators, the mayors of Minneapolis and St. Paul, and party and union activists. 

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, not on the ballot this year, teased her colleague Franken, whom recent polls have shown sitting on a comfortable lead over GOP challenger Mike McFadden. 

"The latest polls have him not 10 votes ahead, but 10 points ahead," Klobuchar said, a reference to Franken's razor-thin win in 2008, which led to a months-long recount and lawsuit. 

Dayton's running mate, Tina Smith, related a discussion the two had a day earlier about the governor's view of where his race against Republican Jeff Johnson sits in its final days. Smith said Dayton often jokes that she's "hope" and he's "reality."

"I said, 'how do you feel?'" Smith said. "And he said, I feel like it's a hockey game, and I'm the goalie, and we're one point ahead and we've got two minutes, and anything could happen."

The red, white and blue bus chartered by the party has a busy schedule of stops in the coming days, with rallies on Wednesday alone in Mankato, Albert Lea, Rochester and Winona. Ensuing days bring stops throughout the state, as statewide, congressional and legislative candidates take turns participating.

Minnesota Republicans are not mounting a similar bus tour, but state GOP chairman Keith Downey said on Tuesday that its candidates would be canvassing the state in the coming days and at times making joint appearances, as well as appearing with local legislative candidates. 

Johnson campaigned Wednesday morning at a suburban bus rapid transit station, and had plans to do retail campaining later in the day in New Ulm, Fairmont and Worthington. McFadden is campaigning in Duluth with Becky Hall, a local state House candidate. 

Franken, McFadden on the offensive over Ebola, business deal

Posted by: Abby Simons Updated: October 28, 2014 - 12:05 PM

U.S. Sen. Al Franken and his Republican challenger Mike McFadden both remain on the campaign trail and on the offensive with one week remaining until Election Day.

McFadden is working his way back to the Twin Cities from a Northeastern Minnesota tour with a morning stop in Moorhead alongside Seventh Congressional District Candidate Torrey Westrom, followed by stops in Alexandria, Sauk Centre and St. Cloud.

In the meantime, his campaign has waged further criticism of Franken’s stance on containing the spread of the Ebola virus, with 30,000 phone calls across Minnesota since Saturday criticizing Franken for leaving a Sept. 16 Congressional hearing on the Ebola crisis. Franken left the hearing to deliver a floor speech on student loan reform. The campaign has also sent out mailers and launched a radio ad featuring audio from last week’s debate when Franken was asked whether he supports a travel ban. McFadden said he backs the ban, and Franken previously said he would consider it if the concerns of aid workers and Minnesota’s Liberian community were taken into account.

Franken has deflected McFadden’s criticism about his handling of the Ebola crisis, saying he has pushed for increased screening at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport and led efforts to ensure that Minnesota health care providers have the necessary federal resources to fight the disease, which has already claimed more than 4,500 lives, primarily in west African nations.

Meanwhile, Franken, who is hosting grassroots Get Out the Vote events Tuesday at Mankato State University and Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, is continuing his own offensive on McFadden’s alleged ties to a restructuring deal that resulted in the closing of a Montana mill. McFadden has denied involvement, saying it was his parent company, Lazard Fréres, and not Lazard Middle Market, where he was CEO until he took a leave of absence during his U.S. Senate bid.

However, the Franken campaign says the deal was mentioned on Lazard Middle Market’s website until the the Franken campaign ran an ad criticizing the deal. McFadden also hesitated at Sunday’s debate when asked why mention of the deal was taken down from the website.

The undisputed fact is that Mike McFadden's company took credit for the deal until our ad criticized him for it,” said Alexandra Fetissoff, Franken campaign spokesperson.  “The press wrote about the deal 18 months ago. McFadden didn't correct the stories. And his company didn't take it off their website. Minnesotans deserve to know: were they telling the truth then or are they telling the truth now?”

Today in the Senate race: Northern Minnesota

Posted by: Abby Simons Updated: October 27, 2014 - 2:30 PM

U.S. Sen. Al Franken and his Republican challenger Mike McFadden are spending Monday campaigning in northern Minnesota.

McFadden, who visited Tobie's Restaurant in Hinckley Monday morning, is scheduled to make afternoon trips to Baxter and, where he'll visit the Brainerd Victory Office in Baxter, and Bemidji, where he will stop at the Peppercorn Restaurant.

McFadden is scheduled to co-host a meet-and-greet at 8:45 a.m. Tuesday in Moorhead alongside Seventh Congressional District candidate Torrey Westrom.

Meanwhile, Franken spoke at a Get Out the Vote event on the University of Minnesota Duluth campus alongside Mad Men actor John Hamm.

The candidates were back on the road following a Sunday morning debate. Their next debate is 7 p.m. Nov. 2 on Minnesota Public Radio.

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.

McFadden: Small business owners hurt by Affordable Care Act

Posted by: Abby Simons Updated: October 23, 2014 - 11:43 AM

Small business owners from throughout the state who say the Affordable Care Act has resulted in drastic increases in the cost to insure their employees joined U.S. Senate candidate Mike McFadden Wednesday to decry the legislation, while McFadden himself acknowledged relief likely wouldn’t come quickly.

“These aren’t just numbers, they’re affecting real people,” McFadden said, standing in front of greenhouse proprietors, ski resort owners and others. “There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t have a conversation with a small business owner who shares with me their exacerbation about health care costs.”

The Sunfish Lake businessman is running against Democratic Sen. Al Franken, who voted for and is a vocal ACA supporter.

Dan Raedeke, President of Wild Mountain Ski Area in Taylors Falls, said the implementation of the ACA will cause their insurance rate increases to jump by 30 percent to a total cost of $100,000 to insure 15 families.

“I read in the paper sometimes that people are saying this is working, but it’s not working for the working class,” he said.

According to McFadden, Faribault-based Donahue Greenhouse saw an $80,000 budget increase to afford a high-deductible plan for 22 employees.

Mike Hickey, Minnesota State Director of the National Federation of Independent Businesses, cited a survey of 233 licensed health insurance agents, who service 2,454 businesses that showed a rate increase for 74 percent of the small businesses, while 26 percent had a decrease.

One month ago, McFadden proposed a repeal of the Affordable Care Act in favor of open-border optional state-based exchanges—meaning states can decide whether to mandate health care—including the option for businesses to pool their resources to keep healthcare costs down. He defended the proposal as more effective than the principles of the Affordable Care Act because businesses would have the opportunity to buy insurance across state lines.

McFadden said that, if elected, he would push for provisions currently existing under the ACA to move authorization to the states, allowing them to address increasing rates, though he didn’t elaborate how the states would do that.

McFadden said that under his plan, he said, states would operate like “laboratories for experiments.”

“If a state wants to have a mandate they can have a mandate. If they don’t want to have a mandate they don’t have to have a mandate, and see what that impact is on the cost of insurance and the cost of healthcare,” he said. “What we can do instead of having a one size fits all, which is what we have right now with Obamacare, we’ll have 50 different examples of what can be done…What I don’t expect is that the federal government’s going to be able to do this in an efficient way that will drive down costs.”