Franken vs. McFadden in Senate race

Updated: November 4, 2014 - 10:31 am

Incumbent Democratic Senator Al Franken and Republican candidate Mike McFadden have different strategies to boost the economy: McFadden emphasizes cutting red tape to speed copper-nickel mining and oil pipeline projects; Franken wants to help refinance student debt and improve job skills training.

The candidates disagree on the Affordable Care Act: McFadden has said he would repeal it and replace it with a “patient-centered, market-based” program controlled by the states; Franken defends it, saying the law cut the state’s uninsured rate nearly in half.

McFadden has worked to closely tie Franken’s voting record to President Obama. Franken’s attack ads, meanwhile, have focused on McFadden’s business interests.

David Schultz, a political science professor at Hamline University, said most polls at press time showed Franken with an 8-10 point lead, with the exception of a KSTP poll that showed a larger lead but also a larger margin of error.

“I think they’ve been frozen more or less since the primary in August,” Schultz said. 

Libertarian Party candidate Heather Johnson and Independence Party candidate Steve Carlson haven’t gained much traction in polls, Schultz said, and they weren’t included in the first debate in Duluth.

The fundraising arm of Alliance for a Better Minnesota launched a six-figure ad buy opposing McFadden, with more than $850,000 in cash on hand in October. The progressive policy group planned to focus ads on Medicare and Social Security. 

The Ohio-based Hometown Freedom Action Network has spent more than $340,000 to oppose Franken. 

Upcoming debates are Oct. 26, 10-11 a.m. hosted by WCCO, and Nov. 2 at 7 p.m. hosted by Minnesota Public Radio.


Al Franken

Home: Elliot Park neighborhood in Minneapolis

Party: DFL

Campaign cash: $15 million thru July

Campaign website:

Al Franken said in written responses that his top priorities for another term relate to the economy.

“We’ve experienced 55 straight months of private sector job growth but most of the economic benefit has gone to the top — not to middle class families,” he said.

Franken said he’s focused on job skills training, new legislation to make college more affordable, a minimum wage increase, and tax code reform that’s “fair for everyone.”

Franken took office in 2009 and previously worked as a screenwriter, comedian, author and radio talk show host.

He said his major Senate accomplishments include securing more funding for mental health services in schools and passing a bipartisan workforce training reform system. He also cited work to make insurance companies more accountable under the health care law.

“I wrote one of the largest cost-saving measures into the law which requires health insurance companies to spend at least 80 percent of people’s premium dollars on actual health care as opposed to profits, CEO salaries or marketing,” he said. “Consumers have already received $1.9 billion in rebates because of my provision.”

Regarding the potential for the Federal Aviation Administration to consolidate departures into fewer flight paths out of the airport (so-called “highways in the sky”), Franken said he’s urged the FAA to take public concerns into account.

“Because we have an urban airport, the FAA and MSP need to consider its neighbors, and balance their concerns with the desire for efficient airport operations. I will continue to push the FAA to have open communication with area residents,” he said. “The FAA is studying whether current noise limits need to be changed, and I will carefully review what the science has to say about the effect of noise on adjacent neighborhoods.”

Regarding partisan gridlock in Congress, Franken said he’s focused on trying to find common ground with Republican colleagues. He cited work with Republican senators on a federal workforce training system, a push against unfair trade practices by South Korea, protection of the federal sugar program as part of the Farm Bill, and reduced railroad complaint fees.

“This is what you have to do as a Senator — you can’t let frustration and gridlock get in your way,” he said.

Local contributors to Franken’s campaign include Pohlad Companies executives, attorney Mike Ciresi and Dayton family members.

According to data provided by the Sunlight Foundation, Franken’s biggest political action committee donors include $160,898 from Americans for Responsible Solutions, a group founded by former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords and her husband to encourage elected officials to prevent gun violence.

Franken lives with his wife at the Grant Park Condominiums, and they have two children.

Mike McFadden

Home: Sunfish Lake

Party: Rebublican

Current job: Former Co-CEO of Lazard Middle Market

Money raised: $4 million thru July

Campaign website:

Mike McFadden said in the Oct. 1 debate in Duluth he would focus on energy and mining, education, and effective government if elected Senator.

McFadden has spent the past 20 years working at the company now called Lazard Middle Market, a financial advisory and asset management firm. He represented businesses that wanted to be acquired, according to the Pioneer Press, typically companies worth $20 million-$300 million.

McFadden’s campaign did not respond to questions for the Voter’s Guide. In the Duluth debate, he said he would push to open oil pipelines and the PolyMet copper-nickel mine to create more jobs for Minnesotans.

“I’m tired of this false choice that’s put forth by the environmentalists that you’re either for the environment or for jobs. You can be for both. I’ve not met one person in Minnesota, myself included, that wants to do anything that would harm our 10,000 lakes. But we have a process here that has taken nine years and $200 million dollars, and we still don’t have an answer. … For the good people on the Iron Range they’ve just lost another generation because there’s not jobs.”

Regarding education, McFadden said it is shameful that Minnesota has some of the nation’s worst educational outcomes for minorities, with the lowest graduation rate for Hispanics and second lowest for African Americans.

“Where is the moral outrage on that?” he said. 

He noted his service on the board at Cristo Rey Jesuit High School in the Phillips neighborhood.

“I’ve been involved in an inner-city school in one of the toughest neighborhoods, where 90 percent of our kids are Latino or African American and we have a 100 percent graduation rate, and we do it for 60 percent of the cost,” he said. “I want to radically change the school system in the inner city so all children, regardless of zip code, have the right to a first-class education.”

McFadden has attacked Franken’s voting record, calling him the most partisan senator in the Democratic party, voting with President Barack Obama 97 percent of the time.

“I believe that the biggest single issue in this country is we’ve created this professional class of politicians, and it’s killing us,” he said. “And I believe in six years that Sen. Franken has become part of that professional class. … I’ve been in the private sector my whole life, I know how to have efficiency and make efficiency.”

Local contributors to McFadden’s campaign include Best Buy founder Richard Schulze, Valspar CEO Gary Hendrickson, and Greco CEO Arnie Gregory, who is the developer of Uptown apartments like Blue, Lime and Flux.

McFadden grew up in Omaha and met his wife while attending the University of St. Thomas. He has six children.

Heather Johnson

Home: Golden Valley

Party: Libertarian Party 

Current job: Hamline University student, writer, Libertarian Party Secretary

Money raised: No filing at Federal Election Commission thru July

Campaign website:

Heather Johnson said she first became involved in activism as a teenager, when she worked to get out the vote and advocate on the effects of drug and alcohol abuse.

“The thing I’d really like to focus on is campaign and election law reform,” she said.

Johnson said she’s upset that third parties are excluded from debates.

“It’s creating the false idea that Democrats and Republicans outnumber everyone else,” she said.

Johnson has previously worked in quality control for the mortgage and financial industries. She said she’s also worked in retail, and when the market fell out she worked in security.

“I decided to go back to school to focus on writing,” she said. 

If elected, Johnson would work to end the war on drugs to decrease government spending; she said incarceration isn’t effective in stopping drug use. 

She wants to replace the Affordable Care Act with a more competitive system. 

“Whenever you have governments involved, it stifles competition in the market,” she said. “[ACA] was a huge failure for Minnesotans.”

Johnson would also like to end “cyclical” U.S. involvement in the Middle East.

“I think if we continue to take military action, it will never end,” she said.

In lieu of affordable housing developments, Johnson said she’d prefer to see vouchers for individuals to live where they like. She’s particularly interested in alternative, energy-efficient housing like “tiny homes.”

Johnson has two children.

Steve Carlson 

Home: Provides a St. Paul campaign
P.O. Box

Party: Independence Party 

Current job: Consultant, writer and musician, according to LinkedIn page

Money raised: Carlson did not raise or solicit any money as of September

Campaign website:

Steve Carlson didn’t respond to emails or calls for our Voter’s Guide, but he’s posted plenty of video footage on his positions for the interested viewer. 

The self-proclaimed Tea Party member took the Independence Party by surprise when he beat the endorsed candidate Kevin Terrell, a Lynnhurst resident, in the August primary by nearly 800 votes. In a Federal Election Commission filing, Carlson said he “contacted voters outstate through social media and that is how I won.” 

Carlson also ran against Betty McCollum as a U.S. House Independence Party candidate in 2010 and 2012, taking about 6 percent of the vote in each race.

According to his website, Carlson calls himself a “radical centrist” and supports “traditional marriage,” equal exposure for minority party candidates, and protections to curb consumer credit debt.

He gives the Affordable Care Act a failing grade, and in 2010 he posted a “jazz rap” with the lyrics: “Four years we’ve had the Democrats everywhere, But all they could come up with is ObamaCare. They want the public option called the single-payer, But they just left insurance costs way up in the air.” 

Carlson’s social media strategy is prolific and unique among the candidates. He tweeted one of his recent posts at least 350 times: “Barack Obama, Al Franken have no constitutional authority to put boots on the ground in Ebola,” tweeting direct messages to accounts ranging from Newsweek and the Los Angeles Times to Starbucks UK, the city of Grand Marais and Heavy Table.