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Mark Zdechlik, MPR News 90.3 FM, Published November 08 2013

GOP U.S. Senate contest underway in Minnesota

ST. PAUL – If being the Republican candidate nominee for U.S. Senate next year has anything to do with the size of a candidate’s bank account and campaign headquarters, businessman Mike McFadden would have it wrapped up.

McFadden joined the race to take on Democratic U.S. Sen. Al Franken in May. He has already raised almost $1.5 million and his campaign headquarters in Eagan sprawls over 6,000 square feet of upper-end office space.

Also seeking the Republican nod are state Sen. Julianne Ortman, state Rep. Jim Abeler and St. Louis County Commissioner Jim Abeler.

Like them, McFadden, an investment banker, hopes state convention delegates will endorse him.

But McFadden is also clear that he’s ready to challenge an endorsed candidate in a primary if delegates choose not to back his campaign. Even though he has never run for elective office, he considers himself the GOP’s best shot to capture the seat Franken won four years ago.

“I would love to have the endorsement, but make no mistake about it: My goal is to beat Franken,” McFadden said. “As I’m out speaking to people in Minnesota, they’re tired of losing elections if they’re Republicans, and what we need to do in order to win is to get our message out. And my message is a belief in limited but effective government. That’s a message that I’m delivering not just to Republicans but to independents and to Reagan Democrats.”

On the other side of the Twin Cities in Chaska is the much smaller campaign office of Ortman, who has turned to an experienced party insider. Her campaign manager, Andy Parrish, was U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann’s chief of staff in Washington and helped orchestrate Bachmann’s presidential campaign.

Through September, Ortman raised about $120,000. Although she’s way behind McFadden in the money race, Ortman placed well ahead of him last month in straw poll of 335 members of the Minnesota Republican Party’s central committee.

“I intend to win,” she said. “We’re working very hard to earn the support.”

Ortman said her 12 years in the Minnesota Senate and time on the Carver County Board qualify her to go to Washington. She also cites her role in the budget solution that ended the state government shutdown two years ago as an example of her good legislative judgment.

“We balanced our budget without raising one dollar in taxes to show that government can live within its means,” Ortman said. “That’s the kind of experience that we need in Washington. Those are the kinds of solutions that we need in Washington, and that’s why I’m building such a strong base of support across the state.”

That budget delayed about $700 million in payments to schools and borrowed about the same amount against future payments from the state’s court settlement with tobacco companies.

Abeler, a 15-year veteran of the Minnesota House, who also supported the deal, aims to convince voters that his experience is needed in Washington.

“I’m the only one who actually can get the job done,” he said. “That’s different from me than any of my other opponents.”

Through September Abeler raised a little more than $50,000 – one-thirtieth of McFadden’s take. But Abeler isn’t deterred by his fundraising disadvantage.

“People are tired of the big money. You need some money – a lot of it, but they’re tired of money fueling everything,” he said. “Who gives you the big money owns you whether it’s a Democrat or a Republican who gives you the money. They own you.”

Rounding out the pack of Republican hopefuls is Dahlberg, who entered the race in late September and didn’t report any third-quarter fundraising.

Like Abeler, Dahlberg said his ability to win elections with bipartisan support makes him the best choice to go up against Franken.

“Of all of the candidates I’ve proven myself the ability to get what used to be called ‘the Reagan Democrats,’ ” he said. “You can’t win as a Republican in Minnesota if all you’re going to be able to do is get into the highly Republican areas.”

All of the Republican Senate candidates are stressing their effort to appeal broadly to Minnesota voters rather than hammering home ultra-conservative credentials. At least so far, they’re going after Franken, not each other.