Pol Position – Frankensense

Back in March, we broke down the various Republican contenders and pretenders looking to make a statewide bid in 2014.  Since then, there’s been a bevy of candidates and plenty of armchair analysis that’s been backlogged.

We break down the emerging GOP race for US Senate.  We take a similar look at the Governor’s race here.

 

On the surface, Minnesota Republicans should have 312 reasons to want a strong challenger to Sen. Al Franken.

But with a party mired in debt and warring factions, and following a nearly one million vote margin of defeat against Sen. Amy Klobuchar, there have been ample reasons why Franken has been off the GOP radar as a potential target.  Running for Senate is an extremely expensive proposition, with a price-tag likely around $10-15 million minimum (Franken raised $22.5 million in 2008) – a tall order for anyone, especially candidates with limited name ID.

Still, Franken remains the candidate who won in a bitterly contested race and whom even Democrats had doubts about, hence the last-minute primary candidacy of Priscilla Lord Faris in 2008.  Franken leads potential rivals right now by margins around 15-16%, a testament in part to the incumbent’s name ID.  Keep in mind, Norm Coleman lead Franken by 15% as late as July of 2008 (an admitted outlier of a poll, to be sure), reminding activists of all stripes of the “tempest in a tea pot” nature of all polling data.

The Contenders

Businessman Mike McFadden seemed to have terrible political luck.  Making his campaign announcement the same day that Michele Bachmann told supporters she wouldn’t seek re-election, McFadden disappeared from media attention and activist view.  For a candidate with no standing with delegates or alternates, let alone average voters, McFadden’s Harvey the Rabbit campaign look destined to vanish into history as well.

McFadden certainly captured some of the eyes he lost on his opening day with the announcement that he had raised over $700,000 in just a month.  That McFadden could command some sizeable resources wasn’t exactly a surprise for an executive of the Lazard financial firm, but only $10,000 of McFadden’s initial haul came from himself (McFadden has stated he won’t self-fund).  Considering Franken himself has $2 million cash on hand (not including his 2nd quarter fundraising report), McFadden’s opening financial salvo was a shot across the bow to any potential GOP rival.

McFadden might have caught the attention of GOP activists with his fundraising prowess, but his next step needs to be demonstrating some philosophical/issue strength.  McFadden’s website is simplistic and almost entirely issue-free, save for a few platitudes in a biographical 3-minute web video introduction.  That won’t be anywhere near enough to secure the support of the base.

But who exactly will be the “base” in 2014?  Or more specifically, will the base of delegates and alternates look like 2012 – Ron Paul dominated?  St. Rep. Jim Abeler (R-Anoka) obviously thinks so.

Abeler wasn’t on any political junkie’s radar when he made his surprising entrance into the Senate race.  And for good reason – the last time Jim Abeler was significantly on the statewide political radar, he was one of the “Override Six,” casting deciding votes against Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s veto of the gas tax in 2007.  Abeler’s vote then was just part of a pattern of hard-to-follow votes criss-crossing the ideological spectrum:

Despite endorsing Ron Paul for President in 2012, Abeler is notorious for supporting bigger government in the form of mass transit subsidies, the new Vikings stadium and the MN Health Exchange. However, Abeler may appeal to some social conservatives since he voted “yes” on the MN Marriage Amendment two years ago and then, in one of the more passionate defenses of traditional marriage, voted “no” to legalize same-sex marriage last month. Again, given that history as a state rep, it seems an odd juxtaposition that he endorsed the libertarian Paul.

Abeler’s political calculus may be easier to follow than his ideology.  Much as Kurt Bills rode the Ron Paul wave into the GOP nomination (and little else), Abeler likely believes history will repeat itself and that he can benefit from his prior Paul push.  It’s a Faustian bargain at best for Abeler, and a deeply cynical one to boot.  Regardless of whether or not the Ron Paul faction will return in similar numbers in 2014 (to say nothing of whether they’ll be able to secure delegates slots as easily), there’s little evidence that a prior endorsement of Paul will equal any support for a candidate whose fiscal voting record puts in the lib in libertarian.

The (For Now) Pretenders

For those activists looking for a more conservative known name with experience, St. Sen. Julianne Ortman (R-Chanhassen) may fit the bill.  Ortman has served since 2003, putting together a fairly reliable conservative voting record, including a 100% record with MCCL and the Minnesota National Federation of Independent Business (her 88% lifetime score with the Taxpayer’s League wouldn’t hurt her odds at the nomination either).

The real question at the heart of Ortman’s candidacy may bring the US Senate race on the Republican side back full-circle – can Ortman raise Mike McFadden amounts of money?  Ortman’s been a solid-to-good State Senate fundraiser (she garnered $75,000 in 2012), but the smallest amount any candidate in Minnesota has spent in a US Senate race and won in the last 15 years is Amy Klobuchar’s $9.2 million haul in 2006.  There’s a lack of an a semi-establishment candidate in the race, and Ortman might be the beneficiary of such support (financial and otherwise) if she gets in.

The Dreamers

Relatively few other names have surfaced on the GOP side, even as the hour is getting late for a competent challenge.  Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek is rumored to be far more interested in running for governor; NewsCorp executive and former Party Finance Chair Bill Guidera has kept his name floating in activist circles for years without ever taking the plunge.  His passing on running against Amy Klobuchar probably represented his best chance at the GOP nomination for anything statewide in the near future as the tarnish of the State Party’s financial picture would haunt any candidacy.  Former State Rep. Laura Brod remains at best a fever dream for many activists, one likely tempered by her political association with Norm Coleman and persistent (if ill-defined) rumors of family baggage should she run for office again.

So Where Do Things Stand?

Simply put, without Mike McFadden’s cash bonanza, this race would be largely forgotten.

McFadden’s haul likely won’t have the immediate effect he hoped it would – namely keeping other candidates out of the race for the GOP nod.  If McFadden can exceed his one-month total by the end of the 3rd fiscal quarter, and raise funds in the range of a few million, then he probably will accomplish that objective.  Thus the next three months are critical.  Either a serious candidate will enter the race (Ortman or someone not currently flirting with a bid) or McFadden will lock down enough contributions and support to make him the undisputed front-runner.  Both could happen at the same time.

Comments welcome at Shot In The Dark.

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