It looks like it’s going to be another tea party vs establishment battle in a Minnesota Republican primary. This time, businessman Mike McFadden is getting the support of the establishment and has been deemed the “electable” candidate by many party insiders. This is based, I guess, on his ability to raise money, which he has done. It isn’t based on his ability to get Republican grassroots excited as he has not really run a campaign for them. McFadden could be a great conservative, but he has never run for political office and few really know anything about him.
What does he really believe? How courageous is he? Is he even willing to take strong positions, or does that come after he secures the nomination? Can he even win an election as a first time candidate? While we get that the GOP would be attracted to a candidate who has raised a bit of many – and yes, that is very important – is it any wonder why conservatives are skeptical of the process and the picks the establishment churns out, usually to no greater result (and often, worse) than what the grassroots go for?
On the other hand, Julianne Ortman is the main alternative to McFadden and will likely be the “conservative alternative.” There isn’t really anything that would make Ortman not worthy of being supported by the establishment. She has a political record that Republicans could get behind, though couldn’t be pigeon-holed as a “tea party extremist” by any measure, which is the establishment’s main concern. She has a decent electoral history, including high-ranking positions in the State Senate. She also performs better than McFadden in polls against Franken despite being in the race for a shorter amount of time and having spent far less money.
2014 Senate Race in Minnesota
Al Franken’s Re-election Not a Sure Thing
With every passing week, a new Democratic-held US Senate seat seems to become more competitive and headed for a potential Republican takeover. Many consider Al Franken’s Senate seat safe, but there are plenty of reasons why this race can and should be competitive. Unlike many of the other seats the Democrats will have trouble defending, Minnesota is decidedly blue today. But it is not a California or New York blue where Republicans simply have no chance. Like neighboring Wisconsin and Michigan, the right Republican can win in Minnesota. If any year is the year to do it, 2014 is the one.
The Democratic Incumbent
Liberal comedian Al Franken didn’t coast into office in 2008 despite being on the same ballot as Barack Obama. President Obama won by double digits in the state over John McCain while Franken had a 300-ish vote win that followed a multi-month ballot-counting controversy. By the time the counting was done, he wound up with just 42% of the vote (Obama had 54%) and squeaked out a win against a Republican and center-right Independence candidate who potentially helped split the vote. Franken has been rated as one of the most liberal Senators and has amassed an impressive war chest for his 2014 campaign. He has been a staunch defender of Obamacare and is first in line to rubber-stamp the Obama agenda. His approval ratings have been so-so at best, though are slightly above water.
The Republican Challengers
So far, two main challengers have emerged. The Republican Establishment seems to be favoring successful businessman Mike McFadden, a first time candidate for political office and a virtual blank slate. McFadden, they hope, could be to Minnesota what Ron Johnson – who ousted a Democrat incumbent – was to Wisconsin in 2010. McFadden main quality so far appears to be his ability to raise money and potentially self-fund. So far McFadden has won the money race in the GOP Primary and the establishment endorsement race after earning the backing of former US Sens. Norm Coleman and Rod Grams. (*Grams passed away in late 2013).
McFadden’s main competition is currently Julianne Ortman, the Deputy Minority Leader of the State Senate. Ortman is slightly more well-known than McFadden due to her time in office and has led primary polling for the race. Her fundraising pace has been somewhat slower than McFadden’s, but a March 2014 endorsement could help her in that area. Other challengers include State Rep. Jim Abeler and County Commissioner Chris Dahlberg.
Recent Minnesota Electoral Trends
In 2012, Amy Klobuchar ran away with the state’s other Senate race against an unfunded Republican challenger. President Obama carried the state by 10 points in 2008 and then 8 in 2012. Democrats have won ever Presidential race in the state since the mid 1970’s and was the only state to not vote for Ronald Reagan in 1984 after the Democratic Party nominated Minnesotan Walter Mondale. Democrats currently hold 5 of the 8 congressional seats and have control of both chambers of state government. The Governor is also currently a Democrat, though Republican Tim Pawlenty was previously a two term governor of the state.
In general terms, the state’s current make-up clearly favors Democrat Al Franken. But the Republican Party performed well in 2010. The party swept both the State House and Senate, netted a congressional seat and should have won the Governor’s mansion. (The Republican lost by a fraction of a percent when a third party, center-right candidate supported by many high-profile Republicans drew roughly 12% of the vote.) The big gains happened in 2008 and 2012 when Barack Obama was on the ballot. This means Franken has to turn out all of these votes by himself in a state that has otherwise seen a pretty good mix of elections favoring Republicans and Democrats.
Polls have Al Franken leading the Republican challengers with Ortman coming the closest so far. But the GOP candidates remain mostly unknown as over 70% of voters have no opinion of the candidates through early 2014 polling. The national mood should favor Republicans as Obamacare continues to be a trouble spot for Democrats, and Obama’s sinking popularity continues to weaken enthusiasm. In the end, Minnesota is a fairly blue state in Presidential election years, and very much a toss-up state in the others. If the GOP nominee can raise enough cash and Democrat’s national woes continue, this could easily become the next state that lands on the list of toss-ups.