Storm clouds brewed outside the Mermaid event center in Mounds View Thursday night while inside Republican U.S. Senate candidate Mike McFadden endured a storm of his own.

McFadden, considered a front runner in the GOP contest to vie against Democratic U.S. Sen. Al Franken, did not begin his appearance as a favorite. The leaders of the North Metro Tea Party had previously said unkind things about McFadden, including that he had dodged their group and calling him a phony.

He didn't leave it as their favorite either.

"Mike McFadden is bad news. He has dodged the tea party and conservative base. He's flip flopped on multiple issues. And he is the establishment's choice for the Senate," Jake Duesenberg, a tea party organizer, wrote on Facebook after the event.

McFadden began his visit by saying that he was in error when he repeatedly said he supported expanding background checks to close the "gun show loophole" early on in his campaign.

"I'm a strong supporter of the Second Amendment," he said. "I made a mistake."

He also promised to take the fight to Franken, making sure there is "no daylight between him and the president", and told his personal story of family struggle and inspiration.

"I'm not a politician and I'm damn proud of that," he said some plaudits from the audience.

But then he began taking questions.

McFadden was asked: Given what some Republicans, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, have said about the tea party, does he consider himself a tea party candidate?

"I'll let you put your own label on me," he replied.

As the room grew more tense, he was asked: What does he think of the job McConnell has done?

McFadden said his job could be better but, "I don't want to get in an argument with you."

Asked whether campaign coffers were fed by people like former Sen. Norm Coleman, big political action committees and big Republican power players, McFadden said he is "working as hard as I can," adding that only about $200,000 of the cash he has said has come from PACs. (According to his last report to the Federal Election Commission $143,000 of the $2.85 million he has raised has come from PACs and about 85 percent of his funding has come from large dollar donors.)

As an audience member said he was not sure that McFadden could win his vote, another member of the audience shouted back, "Who are you going to vote for if you're not going to vote for him."

The first man replied that he may just sit out the Senate election.

"This circular firing squad," McFadden said of Republicans,"has got to stop."

A short time later, McFadden said that he would run in a primary whether or not he wins the endorsement from the delegates who show up at the Republican convention at the end of May.

A new audience member suggested from the floor, that that means McFadden decries firing squads unless he is the one doing the shooting.

After about 40 minutes, with questions still waiting, McFadden said he had to leave. He was off the another tea party event across town.

After he left, some of the attendees said they appreciated that he showed up.

At that event, in Maple Grove, the mood was considerably less tense, said coordinator of the Liberty Tea Party Patriots Mary Amlaw.

"We just had a really upbeat meeting," Amlaw said. "We had a great time."

Photo: Republican U.S. Senate candidate Mike McFadden at the North Metro Tea Party event Thursday night.

Corrected to reflect that McFadden has raised $2.85 million, which is not reflected in the FEC's electronic files but is in its PDF version of McFadden's latest report.

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