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Election 2014: McFadden jabs at ‘partisan’ Franken defends record, Obamacare

DULUTH - Sen. Al Franken and Mike McFadden, his challenger in the race for U.S. Senate, would make a good "Odd Couple," if their debate at the Duluth Playhouse on Wednesday was any indication.

DULUTH - Sen. Al Franken and Mike McFadden, his challenger in the race for U.S. Senate, would make a good “Odd Couple,” if their debate at the Duluth Playhouse on Wednesday was any indication.

When McFadden congratulated Franken and his wife on their pending wedding anniversary in opening statements, Franken cracked, “I was going to use that.” Later, after McFadden cited for the umpteenth time Franken’s percentage of voting simpatico with President Obama, the incumbent senator asked, “I’m sorry; what was that number?”

The moments of levity were welcomed in a contentious debate sponsored by the Duluth News Tribune and the Duluth Area Chamber of Commerce.

McFadden derided Franken numerous times for voting with the president 97 percent of the time, a number Franken called “cherry-picked.”

“I always vote with what I believe is in the interest of the people of Minnesota,” Franken said.

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As Franken became bogged down in defending his record with one citation after another, the challenger repeatedly struck on the same themes.

“We’ve created a class of professional politicians,” McFadden said, before saying Franken is part of the problem. “He’s the most partisan politician in Washington.”

McFadden used his figurative reach as a political outsider to pelt away and assign Franken a dreaded status as a Washington insider. Saying he’d toured all 87 Minnesota counties in the past six months, McFadden asked Franken, “Have you?”

The exchange flabbergasted Franken, who fumbled to say he’s been to more than 1,300 community interactions in the state since his election in 2008.

McFadden continued to play the role of antagonist.

A self-described “huge fan of energy and pipelines,” McFadden said Minnesota was “on the doorstep of an energy renaissance,” and he accused Franken of not encouraging it. McFadden asked, in several different ways, why the proposed PolyMet nickel and copper mining project on the Iron Range has been caught in review for nine years, before calling the regulatory process “lunacy.”

“I support mines,” McFadden said. “I will get mines open.”

McFadden questioned the state’s record when it comes to educating minority students, saying gaps in graduation rates are “immoral; where is the outrage?” He linked that to the growing issue of Minnesotans from minority populations joining terrorist groups in the Middle East, saying that’s happening, in part, because of their poor prospects in the state’s education system. Finally, McFadden kicked the Affordable Care Act - hampered by problems in its implementation - when it was down, and said he’d do it better by incubating health care reforms within the state and outside of federal hands.

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“I want to solve it in the state,” he said. “States are laboratories for experiment.” Franken, after being on the defensive, threw back.

“If he repeals this,” Franken said of the Affordable Care Act, “it goes back to square one,” indicating it would compromise increases in health insurance enrollment and accessibility to those with preexisting conditions, among other gains.

Franken acknowledged PolyMet’s potential and its lengthy review, but he was thoughtful about its risks to the environment and said he had “Rangers” and their political leaders on his side.

“The only thing worse than taking a long time to get it right,” he said, “is getting it wrong.”

The heaviest shot of the day seemed to come from Franken, and it silenced his opponent. Saying he wants to rebuild the federal Highway Trust Fund that’s failing yet largely responsible for infrastructural improvements, Franken called for an end to subsidies for “the most successful, richest, biggest companies in the history of the world” - the oil and gas companies.

“We should not be subsidizing them,” Franken said. “We should be building roads.”

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Brady Slater, Forum News Service

Related Topics: ELECTION 2014
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