In the third and final debate before Election Day, Minnesota Sen. Al Franken and Republican challenger Mike McFadden had to work harder to point out their differences after finding common ground on domestic spying, reforms in education and immigration policy, net neutrality and U.S. involvement in Syria.
There were some sparks in the beginning as McFadden repeatedly praised Franken’s Democratic colleague Sen. Amy Klobuchar, saying he thought Franken should work as hard as she does, canvassing all 87 counties annually.
Asked whether he would be a senator like Klobuchar, McFadden answered, “I’m here to say Amy Klobuchar sets the bar for work ethic and authenticity.”
After mentioning his conversations with turkey farmers, Franken said he had a lot of responsibilities in Washington, and that Minnesotans saw him enough. As the moderators tried to shift subjects, Franken quipped, “I’d like to talk about this 87 more times.”
Franken is fighting to hold onto the seat he won by 312 votes after a recount in 2009. McFadden, a Sunfish Lake businessman, has waged a relentless campaign and has risen steadily in the polls, where he now trails Franken by single digits.
McFadden labored to portray Franken as part of the partisan gridlock in Washington, touting the incumbent’s top 10 “liberal” rating by the National Journal. McFadden said the country is worse off than it was six years ago, and that Franken has supported President Obama every step of the way.
McFadden, who sounded like a Democrat when endorsing net neutrality and urging the federal government to spend more on education and charter schools, said he would work across the aisle to get things done for Minnesota.
“You came into office having been a very, very partisan radio host,” he said, inaccurately citing the name of Franken’s book, “Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot,” which prompted a correction from Franken. “How are you going to be effective?” McFadden asked. “I believe Minnesota deserves two effective senators.”
Franken countered by touting his bipartisan work on a massive overhaul to the federal workforce development system. He said he “finds common ground … but also I stand my ground.”
On how to handle Islamic extremists, McFadden and Franken both said they did not favor sending U.S. troops to Syria. Franken said he disagreed with how Obama first handled the growing threat in Iraq and pointed out that McFadden didn’t have a foreign policy answer when he was asked a year ago.
MPR moderators Cathy Wurzer and Kerri Miller also pressed both candidates on Obama’s decision to deport 6 million undocumented immigrants.
Both Franken and McFadden said they support the comprehensive immigration bill that passed the Senate last year. McFadden listed other measures that should be in place, like background checks and language fluency, and noted there should be penalties for those who have broken the law.
Pressed several times on whether he thought the deportations were a good decision, Franken said, “There are people here illegally who should be deported, but there is prosecutorial discretion that should be used in cases where it doesn’t benefit the community, it doesn’t benefit anybody.”
During the debate, Franken named nearly a dozen GOP senators with whom he had worked to pass legislation. He said afterward it wasn’t to distance himself from McFadden’s claims that he is hyperpartisan.
“It’s just to talk about the work I’ve done. There’s some I didn’t mention,” he said.
McFadden didn’t use his oft-repeated refrain that Franken voted with Obama 97 percent of the time. Afterward, McFadden said: “I don’t think I need to use it. It has been ingrained in people’s heads. ”
Sparks erupted before the debate Sunday, as McFadden’s campaign said it planned to file a complaint with the FEC on Monday alleging Franken’s campaign is illegally coordinating with a super PAC.
At issue are two ads released about the same time that are similar in composition and message. One was launched and paid for by Franken’s campaign, the other by Independence USA PAC, a group bankrolled by billionaire Michael Bloomberg, the former New York mayor.
“This is a silly complaint by a desperate campaign trying to change the dynamic of a race,” said Marc Elias, Franken campaign lawyer.
Today is the last full day of campaigning. Franken will spend the day on a bus tour across the metro area. McFadden will fly around the state with Sixth Congressional District GOP candidate Tom Emmer to rally voters in the state’s outlying areas..