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McFadden’s first attack ad lacks substance, but it could work

U.S. Senate candidate Mike McFadden in a screen shot from his first commercial.

The first TV ad of the 2014 U.S Senate race is scheduled to start appearing today. It’s a 30-second Mike McFadden ad criticizing Sen. Al Franken for too much federal taxation, too much federal spending and a double attack on the Obamacare issue.

McFadden also gave a fairly long interview to Chad Hartman on WCCO radio, after which Hartman joined the ranks of journalists frustrated with McFadden’s unwillingness to take positions on issues, inspiring Hartman to create a new verb.

First the ad, titled “Miss.” (You can watch it here.) Set on a hockey rink, we see puck after puck, about 10 in all, miss the net and eventually catch a glimpse of a hockey player, presumably representing Franken (although I’m pretty sure not played by him) falling over as he launches yet one more errant shot. The unseen narrator provides a negative review of Franken’s votes, which are characterized as “miss after miss after miss.”

Then halfway through, McFadden shows up on skates, making a credible looking stop and announcing that he approves this message because we need someone who will shoot straight in Washington. It ends with him taking a slapshot into the net. Here it is:

I have ridiculous willfully naive standards for political ads, which is to say that I expect them to be honest and substantive. On that basis this one is a flop. But the two political scientists I asked to give me their reactions were both impressed with the ad, judging it on its potential impact.

Larry Jacobs of the U of M’s Humphrey School said McFadden is “using the challenger playbook — framing the election as a referendum on things voters (especially GOP voters) intensely dislike. Of course, he’s silent on what he’d do on those issues. But that’s not what he needs politically, which is to distinguish himself as the most reliable repository for anti-Franken votes.” McFadden has shown no interest in differentiating himself from the other Republican candidates, even though he will likely face them in the August primary. Jacobs said this ad would help him in both August and November.

U of M political scientist Howard LaVine, who specializes in “political psychology,” also gave the ad a favorable review, calling the ad “novel,” “humorous,” able to criticize Franken “without making you feel bad about how terrible everything is.” Visually, he thought McFadden looked good.

LaVine declared that McFadden’s slap shot looked reasonably credible, and may be “cognitively priming” voters to believe that a guy who is competent at something they care about (hockey) might be competent at other things.

DFL mocks

In an email/press release to, the DFL mocked McFadden for the “straight shooter” theme of the ad, and brought McFadden’s latest public interview, the one on WCCO in which Hartman asked McFadden about four or five specific issues and didn’t get a clear statement of McFadden’s position on any of them. Regular Black Ink readers will recognize both the issue of McFadden’s long-running effort to avoid specific positions and, if you listen to the interview, you will see some familiar tap-dance performances on issues about which McFadden has been asked previously.

If you are inclined to listen for yourself, it’s available here, but McFadden doesn’t appear until minute 17 of this podcast, and Hartman doesn’t start pressing him for issue positions until about the 26:00 mark. The last four minutes include the first time I’ve heard McFadden asked whether he would sign the famous Grover Norquist pledge to reject any tax increases (to which he certainly didn’t give a yes or no answer, although he implied that the answer was yes).

Hartman’s parting comment, after McFadden had left, was: “The criticism that’s come his way, I don’t think it’s gonna end if he continues to non-answer questions.” (I haven’t previously seen “non-answer” used as a verb, but the language is a dynamic thing, y’know.)

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Comments (31)

  1. Submitted by mark wallek on 04/17/2014 - 09:24 am.

    The deal maker

    Generally, lack of substance is a deal maker. Got the look down. Practiced at the passion/compassion/ready to fight looks a good pol needs. Getting the years worth of common folk wages together to fight this fight, so you know he must really be hungry to “serve” the citizen. Just like his opponent.

  2. Submitted by Logan Foreman on 04/17/2014 - 09:55 am.


    Has as many specific positions on the issues as the rest of the GOP – ZERO, other than total support for the 1% in this country.

  3. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 04/17/2014 - 10:01 am.

    The man without qualities

    Why would a guy who seems to be without opinions even go door knocking let alone run for office?

  4. Submitted by James Hamilton on 04/17/2014 - 10:08 am.

    That feeble slap shot

    isn’t going to impress anyone.

  5. Submitted by James Hamilton on 04/17/2014 - 10:25 am.


    accuses Congress of kicking the can down the road on immigration and then does so himself in the Hartman interview. He says we need to secure the borders, consider “hurdles” that must be met by undocumented immigrants and then they have to get in line, “the same line” as everyone else. Should they be deported and start over? Silence.

    On the Norquist pledge: No answer.

    On whether he would vote to raise the minimum wage to $10 per hour: minimum wage is important but shouldn’t be a federal matter, it should be handled on the state level. Was the recent increase in Minnesota’s minimum wage appropriate? “I don’t know, I don’t have the information.”

    The key to his campaign appears to be avoiding saying anything that might offend anyone. That’s Minnesota leadership at its finest, Mr. McFadden.

  6. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 04/17/2014 - 10:45 am.

    You’d think if he wants to look like a hockey player he’d work on his skating and shooting.

    I see a putting stance in his shot.

    But a commercial made on a golf course would have an entirely different tone.

  7. Submitted by David Frenkel on 04/17/2014 - 10:57 am.

    Name that arena

    Anybody recognize the ice arena this ad was shot at? Political ads need more substance than reducing taxes. Too bad no mention of the soon to be financial crisis ice rinks will be in by 2020 when they need to replace refrigeration systems. Too spice things up they should have put a cardboard cut out of Mark Dayton from his college goalie days in the net.

  8. Submitted by Eric Schubert on 04/17/2014 - 10:58 am.

    A Big Video Game

    The other side should also be able to take video of reporters asking him questions, spliced with him not answering/evading them, throw in cartoons of him running from the issues and make people wonder if he can be trusted. Political campaigns: the Great All American Video and Special Effects Game.

  9. Submitted by Eric Snyder on 04/17/2014 - 11:06 am.

    Observations on the Hartman interview

    -After Hartman asks McFadden about the lack of detail on his positions, McFadden states that Franken has even fewer policy details on his website than he does. Hartman then, thankfully, follows this up by rhetorically asking if we already know quite a bit of detail about Franken’s record based on his votes. McFadden, apparently unable to anticipate this obvious reply, immediately switches the subject.

    -On the question of the minimum wage he fumbles around, claiming ignorance about the economics of the issue, (paraphrasing) “I didn’t have access to those reports.” How long have we been having this debate about the minimum wage in MN now? McFadden has had enough time to investigate this issue but hasn’t bothered to do so. He makes the too-obvious-to-mention statement that if the minimum wage were too high then it would destroy jobs. It’s the kind of thing you say when you know almost nothing else about the subject of the minimum wage. And yet, the first thing mentioned on his web page under “issues” is growing the economy (jobs).

    I’m looking forward to the debates…

  10. Submitted by Ron Gotzman on 04/17/2014 - 11:13 am.

    Great introductory commercial

    Good commercial.

    This ad is far more informative than the barrage of negative attack ads from the “alliance for a better Minnesota.”

    BTW – has anyone seen or heard from Al Franken recently?

    • Submitted by jason myron on 04/17/2014 - 11:40 am.

      do you mean

      apart from being front and center on the Comcast merger nationally? Or, don’t they cover that over at Breitbart?

      • Submitted by Ron Gotzman on 04/17/2014 - 01:19 pm.

        Franken….Such a leader???

        The Hill says….’ Franken has mostly stood alone…’and “is now waging a one-man crusade against Comcast’s…”

        I am sure you are also waiting for the hard hitting, intense interview of Al Franken by Eric Black concerning the great progress he has made on keeping his campaign promises.

        • Submitted by Jon Lord on 04/17/2014 - 02:04 pm.


          Which ones are you talking about? MNSure? Minimum wage? Things Al Franken stands for are generally well laid out and he doesn’t hedge on them.

          • Submitted by Ron Gotzman on 04/17/2014 - 08:11 pm.

            campaign across MN!

            Let us both hope Mr. Franken campaigns across the State of MN, debates his GOP rival on many occasions, and is willing to engage in a hard-hitting Eric Black interview.

        • Submitted by Logan Foreman on 04/17/2014 - 10:24 pm.

          Hey Gotzman

          McFadden can not even come up with promises just pure generalities with no substance. Perfect for the 1 %

  11. Submitted by Tom Christensen on 04/17/2014 - 11:17 am.

    Typical Republican

    Beyond failed talking points – NOTHING. We can still mark the GOP’s effort to change their brand as no progress.

  12. Submitted by Eric Snyder on 04/17/2014 - 12:54 pm.

    McFadden’s vagueness: deliberate strategy, limited knowledge…

    or both?

    An idea has already taken hold about McFadden that may be misleading—that he’s withholding his true policy positions on purpose. There may certainly be some truth to this. Withholding one’s specific viewpoints, especially early in a campaign, may minimize inevitable negative impressions when the public eventually hears something with which they disagree. Keep your positions vague, and the public will project their beliefs and values onto you. And maybe like you.

    Another possibility that’s emerging, at least in my mind after having listened to McFadden and tried to gauge the quality of his thinking, is that there’s not much more there. It’s entirely possible that he really doesn’t know all that much. What he does have is ideological correctness, and for most potential supporters that is enough.

    But it shouldn’t be. We need knowledge and reason-guided intelligence in Washington, not another dogmatic ideologue.

    We also can’t afford more conservative anti-science.

    Reporters: Ask McFadden about his stands on climate change and evolution. Ask him if he knows anything at all about climate change. Will he just robotically spout Fox News talking points?

  13. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 04/17/2014 - 01:25 pm.

    Generic Republican

    Buy them cheap at WalMart.

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 04/18/2014 - 01:11 pm.


      I never thought of the Koch brothers as WalMart shoppers. I suppose they buy enough of them that they can get a wholesale price.

  14. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 04/17/2014 - 01:33 pm.

    Congressional healthcare

    It’s a tangled tale of woe, but what Mr. McFadden seems not to understand is that Obamcare is intended to apply to people who don’t have health care through their employer, not those, like Sen. Franken, who do. Knowing that, I wonder if Mr. McFadden would change his views.

    Shouldn’t we insist that candidates for public office have at least a minimal grasp of the issues?

  15. Submitted by Jon Lord on 04/17/2014 - 02:23 pm.


    the political psychology is leaning towards the idea that the less one projects actual knowledge of current politics the more hard hitting and effective it will be.

    I personally don’t think he was chosen for his critical thinking or knowledge of politics. More like a front man for poorer products produced by low paid labor and sold at higher prices. Then will complain about the fact that minimum wage earners aren’t buying the really expensive stuff.

  16. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 04/17/2014 - 02:44 pm.


    What a breath of fresh air. Good thing he’s not banging away at the old defunct republican issues eh? Franken is so gonna smoke this guy.

  17. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 04/17/2014 - 03:01 pm.


    Nobody has chosen Mr. McFadden other than himself. And one wonders why. His passion seems to be education, yet senators have relatively little impact on education policy. In these days, senators In these partisan times, there isn’t much on which senators do have an impact.

  18. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 04/17/2014 - 04:21 pm.

    Uncontrolled spending

    The reason spending is out of control in Washington, is because we don’t control the things we spend money on, mainly health care, Social Security, and the occasional war. For McFadden to think, as he apparently does, that he can control spending without addressing what we spend money on, is sort of like a very small tail trying to wag a very large dog.

    I am told that Mr. McFadden is a problem solver, and that’s something we desperately need. Wouldn’t it be great if Mr. McFadden provided us with a demonstration of those skills, before rather than after we choose our senator?

    • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 04/18/2014 - 09:00 am.

      Problem solver?

      My understanding is that McFadden is basically a banker; we saw what bankers did the MN Orchestra, problem solving not so much.

  19. Submitted by Jim Boulay on 04/18/2014 - 08:05 am.


    The ad looks like it was shot at 2 different rinks at the Bloomington Ice Garden. Check out the State championship banners! I’d bet Franken skates and shoots better though. This guy looks pretty unsteady on the blades. The ads point is pretty lame though because when you’re playing hockey you usually don’t get a shot while your standing still 5 feet in front of the net with no goalie or defenseman to stop it! New outdoor record for my group of skating buddies this year -17! CLANK

  20. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 04/18/2014 - 08:44 am.

    Attack ads

    …generally lack substance. I’ve always assumed that was part of the strategy of using them – make the other candidate look as bad as possible without saying anything specific about your own candidate except that s/he is somehow “good.”

    Uninformed independent voters might be swayed by this one. Democrats won’t care how factual or substantive a McFadden ad might be, and neither will Republicans. They’ll vote for or against McFadden just because he’s a Republican. Independent voters who are better informed will dismiss the ad for the campaign season fluff that it is. I think Hiram Foster has it nailed down pretty well.

    I wasn’t here for the previous campaign for this particular Senate seat, but I won’t be surprised if Franken ads are similarly fact-free.

  21. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 04/18/2014 - 09:39 am.

    The problem with this ad is that Mr. McFadden is demonstrating how uninformed he is. I do understand the politics around the Congressional exemption to Obamacare. I have to do a quick google search myself to remind me of it. But it is clear enough that in falling for the dreadfully oversimplified he presents in his commercial, Mr. McFadden is displaying a sort of partisan gullibility that we really don’t need in Washington. We really need better in a US Senator

  22. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 04/18/2014 - 11:31 am.


    I think Franken and Klobuchar are two of the best Senators in the country. I’m positive that a majority of MN voters agree. McFadden is toast, especially if this is going to be his campaign.

  23. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 04/18/2014 - 11:41 am.

    The Democrats actually have a very simple and concise narrative

    Wherever you look you see Republicans running on either blocking or rolling back progress. The counter narrative is simple, Republican’s are about sabotaging governance rather than participating in it. I think the country has had it with stalemates, I think Americans regardless of party are hungry for effective governance, you run against progress at your own peril. The problem is Democrats always have trouble adopting the available simple and effective narratives for some reason.

  24. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 04/18/2014 - 02:27 pm.


    Whenever I see a political ad on TV, I think about the commercials the candidate isn’t making. Mr. McFadden’s commercial is an attempt to pander to Minnesotans. He heard we liked hockey, so he plays the role of someone he is not, or doesn’t want to be, the hockey player. What commercial wasn’t he making when he made this one? He wasn’t making a commercial telling us who he was. He wasn’t telling us how whatever life experiences he might have had qualify for the job he is applying for to the people of Minnesota. While for obvious reasons, there are no warm, soft focus pictures of the millions of Americans whose health insurance he wants to take away, curiously there are no such clips of his wealthy friends who are hurt by Obamacare. While happy to write checks for Mr. McFadden, for some reason they don’t want to appear in his videos.

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