Going into this weekend’s Republican state convention in
Rochester, MN, it was not expected that businessman Mike
McFadden could win party endorsement for the U.S. senate
In fact, State Senator Julianne Ortman was the consensus
favorite to win the endorsement, and was then expected to
contest for the nomination in the state’s August primary with
the better-funded McFadden who had the support of most of
the big-name party leaders.
Four other GOP candidates also were in the race for party
endorsement, including a county commissioner from
northern Minnesota, Chris Dahlberg.
But the convention did not go according to most anyone’s
plans. From the first through the eighth ballot, Commissioner
Dahlberg surprisingly led the balloting. McFadden was second,
and State Senator Ortman trailed in third place from the outset,
and was eliminated from the balloting after the fifth ballot. She
had stated throughout her campaign that she would honor the
party endorsement, as had Dahlberg. Mr. McFadden, however,
made it clear that he would be on the primary ballot no matter
the result in Rochester.
The party endorsement process over the past several years has
been failing in Minnesota in both major parties. In fact, the
current Democratic (in Minnesota, called the Democratic-
Farmer- Labor Party or DFL) Governor Mark Dayton had
defeated the DFL-endorsed gubernatorial candidate in 2010,
and had gone on to win the general election. In this year’s
GOP convention, the other major business will be the
endorsement for governor, but already two of the major
gubernatorial candidates have announced they will go
directly to the party primary in August.
Mrs. Ortman’s campaign had suggested, after her elimination
from the balloting that, if there were no subsequent party
endorsement, she would also run in the primary, but that now
seems very unlikely after McFadden’s surprise victory in
Mike McFadden now will face incumbent DFL Senator Al
Franken in November. A political novice, but a successful
businessman with a rags-to-riches story and a large attractive
Irish-American family, McFadden had been favored to win a
contentious and expensive August primary while Franken
coasted all summer building up his political money chest.
This scenario made Franken a strong favorite to win
re-election in spite of a developing national Republican trend,
and the fact that he voted for controversial Obamacare.
McFadden’s unexpected success at the GOP state convention
now potentially alters this scenario. With almost $2 million
cash on hand, already a successful track record at fundraising,
ability to self-fund, and a whole summer to concentrate his
political assault on the incumbent, this race now moves a few
tiers up the competitive ladder.
To be sure, Al Franken remains the clear favorite in this race,
but following a national pattern this cycle (and unlike their
pattern in 2010 and 2012), Republicans are mostly choosing
their strongest candidates to contest the 10-14 competitive
U.S. races in 2014.
I would now change this race from “strongly favoring the
Democrat” to “leaning Democrat.” As elsewhere in the
nation this political cycle, this could become a very interesting
Copyright (c) 2014 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.