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As McFadden courts votes on the Range, DFL raises Chinese steel comments

The GOP Senate hopeful dismissed the yard signs as a political stunt and emphasized his support for mining in northern Minnesota.

MinnPost photo by Devin Henry

HIBBING, Minn. — The orange sign bearing GOP Senate candidate Mike McFadden’s name would have blended in perfectly among the colorful lineup of Republican yard signs at a Hibbing intersection on Wednesday — except for the message on the bottom.

The DFL, seizing on McFadden’s statement two weeks ago that he wouldn’t oppose using Chinese steel to build the Keystone XL oil pipeline if it was cheaper than an American product, peppered Iron Range towns like this one with the signs on Wednesday. They proclaim, under his campaign logo: “McFadden Supports Chinese Steel.”

McFadden called the signs a political stunt, and said that Democrats are “trying to pivot, trying to reframe the issue.”

“I haven’t seen any [Sen. Al] Franken signs that say ‘I support mining’ or ‘I support the pipeline,’ ” he said during a phone call Wednesday afternoon.

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McFadden has long hit Franken for not moving to speed up the permitting process for either the Keystone pipeline or the PolyMet copper-nickel mine project, both of which are under environmental review. But since early August, when McFadden said he wouldn’t oppose using Chinese steel to construct the pipeline, DFLers have launched an offensive of their own, hoping to use McFadden’s words against him in an area — the Iron Range — that both sides consider important to this fall’s elections. That includes the yard signs, deployed against him before his visit to Hoyt Lakes’ PolyMet site on Wednesday.

“I don’t want to see foreign steel used any more than Sen. Franken does,” McFadden said. “The only difference between Sen. Franken and myself is that on day one I will vote to pass the Keystone pipeline.”

Franken has voted against a handful of Senate proposals meant to hasten the Keystone environmental review process, which is expected to last at least through the election, and he’s undecided on the project until the process runs its course.

As for mining, “Senator Franken supports mining and American steel and he’s got the record to back it up,” campaign spokeswoman Alexandra Fetissoff said in an email. “He’s fought to protect mining jobs by fighting illegal dumping and ensuring that we use more American-made steel. He believes the PolyMet project will create jobs and that it will be done in an environmentally responsible way.”

McFadden consistently uses PolyMet to illustrate why it’s important to overhaul the federal regulatory process. The mine, which would be the first precious-metals mine in Minnesota, has been under environmental review for more than seven years. A study — backed in part by PolyMet and the mining industry — predicts the project could create up to 1,300 jobs in mining and other industries by the time it’s up and running.

McFadden’s campaign said Wednesday he would immediately urge federal regulators to quickly approve the project if he’s elected to the Senate this November.

“[Miners] absolutely believe we’re on the wrong path right now in Minnesota and in this country, and I think I know how to get us on the right path,” he said in an interview. “We’ve got to get this economy growing again, and what’s happening with PolyMet is really exciting.”

Devin Henry can be reached at dhenry@minnpost.com. Follow him on Twitter: @dhenry.