WASHINGTON – Republican U.S. Senate hopeful Mike McFadden is feverishly seeking support from primary voters in an intense contest to determine who will run against Democratic Sen. Al Franken, but the Sunfish Lake businessman has not voted in a primary election for the past 20 years.

According to state voter records, McFadden has cast ballots only in general elections — a habit, it turns out, he shares with the majority of Minnesotans.

Two years ago, only 359,297 Minnesotans cast ballots in the primary election out of 3.05 million registered voters. This compares with the 2.9 million voters who cast ballots in the general election a few months later that year, according to the Minnesota secretary of state.

"Republican primaries in Minnesota generally aren't competitive, so like most Minnesotans, Mike hasn't had a reason to vote in them," McFadden spokesman Tom Erickson said in a statement. "But this year will be different, as Mike McFadden is a different kind of candidate running a different kind of campaign, one that will energize Republicans to cast their primary ballots for a ­candidate that can beat Al Franken."

A check of state records shows that McFadden's GOP opponents — state Sen. Julianne Ortman, Rep. Jim Abeler and St. Louis County Commissioner Chris Dahlberg — are all faithful primary and general election voters. Franken, too, has been steady since he registered to vote in Minnesota in 2006, voting in every general and primary election since then, according to voter records.

The Minnesota GOP primary hasn't really been heavily contested — and thus in many voters' minds, important — since 1936. Until this year.

Eric Ostermeier, a political scientist at the University of Minnesota and author of the Smart Politics blog, said the margins in primary elections going back to the 1930s were complete blowouts and swung upward of 60 points. This wasn't for lack of competition. In all but two of those cycles, there were always at least a couple of names on the ballot. It's just that the mainstream, heavily favored candidate always handily beat out the one or two fringe candidates, said Ostermeier, a student of Minnesota political history.

This year's primary is shaping up to be more of a battle. Even after next weekend's endorsing conventions, there are Republicans in both the Senate and gubernatorial contests prepared to fight until the August primary.

"We probably won't see much Minnesota Nice if these people are going to take it all the way to the primary," Ostermeier said.

Dahlberg said Thursday that he thinks candidates seeking the support of primary voters should have been participating in the process.

"I do find it surprising when he [McFadden] is so intent on forcing a primary in this race that now it's important for him to have a primary," he said. "And in the past for him, it apparently wasn't."

Allison Sherry • 1-202-383-6120