A slow and sarcastic first McFadden-Franken debate

Full video of Wednesday’s debate between Sen. Al Franken and challenger Mike McFadden, courtesy of the UpTake.

The slow start to Minnesota’s U.S. Senate debate stayed slow Wednesday morning with an hourlong exchange in Duluth, not carried on live TV or radio but available online. If you’ve been following the race, there wasn’t much new this morning.

I didn’t hear the candidates say anything new about their policy positions. GOP candidate Mike McFadden claims to have ideas on a lot of issues, including many on which his policy proposals are not fully baked.

“Obamacare is a train wreck,” he said at one point. “It’s a wreck. And I will fix it.” The Republican challenger has, in fact, recently put out a more detailed plan to “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act with a  more state-based new approach that would reduce the role of the federal government.

Incumbent Democrat Sen. Al Franken generally replied that, especially in today’s gridlocked Washington, if the Republicans ever succeeded in repealing Obamacare, they would never have the votes to replace it and all of its benefits would be lost, mentioning several of the most popular of those benefits.

But there was nothing new in this exchange as they have both made these points many times previously, although not while sharing a stage.

McFadden, who was on the attack throughout the debate, repeatedly mentioned that Franken voted with the Obama administration on 97 percent of votes on which the administration took a position. He also said that Franken’s voting record led the Senate in the portion of votes on which his vote agreed with the majority of Senate Democrats.

Franken pushed back a bit, accusing McFadden of “cherry-picking” the votes he was scoring. The third or fourth time McFadden brought up the 97-percent-Obama-voting-record, Franken interrupted sarcastically to say: “What was that number? Let me write that down so I don’t forget.”

McFadden blamed Franken and President Obama for the slowest recovery from any recession in history. Franken said the economy had gained back a lot of ground but too much of the benefit has gone to the already wealthy and not enough to Americans of ordinary means, which, he said, is why he wants to do things like raise the minimum wage, focus education reform on the skills gap so graduates can get good jobs and help young workers who are struggling with student debt to refinance their debt at today’s lower interest rates.

The debate covered the Iron Range mining projects that have been stalled by regulatory review. McFadden says he would do something (unspecified) to get them approved. Franken said he favored the projects going forward but doesn’t want to interrupt the environmental review so the projects will be sustainable.

I had only audio of the debate, but McFadden certainly seemed more enthusiastic. Franken wanted to explain the complexity of various issues. McFadden said things like: “I will go to Washington to fix things. I will roll up my sleeves. I will go to Washington and build consensus. I look forward to fixing this country and getting us back on track.”

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Comments (29)

  1. Submitted by Ron Gotzman on 10/01/2014 - 12:43 pm.

    The real question?

    Who is the real “moderate deficit hawk?”

    • Submitted by Jonathan Ecklund on 10/01/2014 - 02:27 pm.

      Non-sequiter much?

      Your odd digs at Eric Black are getting stale. I appreciate snark as much as the next guy, but at this point, you’ve been beating the horse that played Mr. Ed.

  2. Submitted by Jim Million on 10/01/2014 - 12:46 pm.

    No More New Ideas

    Perhaps it is finally time for us to acknowledge that there are no “new ideas” for politicians. By voting with his leaders 97% of the time, Franken fully demonstrates his position as the perfect corporate employee. The irony of this clash with his former persona is too deep to analyze here.

    McFadden, the requisite evil businessman, often seems far less sophisticated than one would expect given the image painted by his opposition. But, he likely knows that incumbents are defeated on their performance, and challengers are elected on their promises.

    TV ads for these two are of interest, to be sure. The carefully crafted corporate promos for Franken present a sophisticated and studied legislator, an image generally not supported by reality, at least the reality of committee sessions on C-SPAN. McFadden’s spots show us a true Minnesota man-of-the-people, boat and trailer included, all the while touching lightly on expected business acumen and experiential solutions.

    This is a more than typically odd Minnesota match-up. For Franken, it’s about machine defeating the man. And for McFadden, it’s all about man over machine.

    • Submitted by Bill Kahn on 10/01/2014 - 02:49 pm.

      Hey, you can launch the boat, but that does not mean it will float; with as as many holes as Mike McFadden’s has, he can count on being swamped.

      Nothing can float Mike’s boat.

    • Submitted by Luke Ferguson on 10/02/2014 - 04:20 pm.


      Can you please give me some examples of Senator Franken being anything but a “sophisticated and studied legislator”?

      Here, I’ve even done the first part for you: http://www.c-span.org/person/?alfranken

      Everything I’ve seen from Senator Franken since his election he has come across as well informed and incredibly compassionate person who works hard on the issues that matter to him and ever harder on issues that matter to his constituents.

      Until I see some of your purported evidence to the contrary, I’ll continue to disagree with your baseless attacks.

  3. Submitted by Ralf Wyman on 10/01/2014 - 01:17 pm.

    Please sign me up for your newsletter, Mike

    “I will go to Washington to fix things. I will roll up my sleeves. I will go to Washington and build consensus. I look forward to fixing this country and getting us back on track.”

    Wow, that’s fantastic, Mike! I’m so excited. I’ve never heard a politician make such promises before. Do you have a newsletter? Maybe you can recommend some good real estate or business opportunities too!

    OK, snark aside, I think it is telling that you score McFadden with more “energy” but that he’s so light on details. Hmmm, maybe that’s because actual GOP proposals generally score so poorly with voters?

    We need more real analysis of what McFaddens proposals would do, even if what he says is murky.

    My biggest question for him is: what would the rate impact be for Minnesotans of your “risk pool” idea to cover pre-existing conditions if you succeed in repealing the ACA? How would Minnesotans afford it, and how much would state taxpayers have to fork over to cover the gap?

    The other thing I’d love to see some detail on (ahem, reporters): “You say you’d build consensus. But we have an incredibly polarized Congress. What three concrete steps would you take in your first 100 days to create consensus?”

    • Submitted by jason myron on 10/01/2014 - 02:54 pm.


      to the Mike McFadden cliche festival. Couple that with the same, tired, neo-feudal economic policies these clowns are so enamored, a likeability factor that rates right along side dysentery and you have what passes for an exciting GOP candidate. I can’t wait to hear his concession speech..

      • Submitted by E Gamauf on 10/02/2014 - 07:45 am.

        Cobbling a Cliche Fest, save one…

        When the challenger has no suit, no style to call his own, he’s borrowing from everyone else’s.
        That explains the barrage of cliches.

        I noticed the term “East African.”
        Is that new?

        • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 10/02/2014 - 09:35 am.

          He probably can’t pronounce


          • Submitted by E Gamauf on 10/04/2014 - 05:17 am.

            Has the community decided to self-identify…

            I don’t know if McF was ducking something, or whether he was being culturally sensitive.

            I suppose it makes some sense.
            In light of Asian-Americans, Afro-Americans (the hair style is coming back!), Native Americans and, uh — Hispanics, as Dick Nixon might say, East Africans can work in place of Somali-Americans.

            Edit: Skipping the snark, I don’t think it is inclusive to say one met with a community,
            a sub-culture in the state by renaming them without their consent. They are largely Minnesotans now, not just refugees.

  4. Submitted by Ben Horn on 10/01/2014 - 02:18 pm.

    Tired of GOP

    GOP operatives know that linking the dem incumbent to Obama is their best strategy. Same strategy is being used around the country. Smart dem candidates will not let them get away with this ploy.

    Franken should demand that McFadden list the specific votes which he feels are not in the best interest of Minnesota. Then they can debate specific issues rather wasting our time with empty rhetoric. There is nothing wrong with voting 100% with Obama if all those votes were the best choices for Minnesota and the nation.

    Come on, Al, you are smart enough to beat this bombast.

  5. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 10/01/2014 - 02:19 pm.

    Franken wins

    McFadden doesn’t seem to realize that he lives in a state that actually voted for Obama, Obama’s NOT unpopular in MN. Franken’s voting record is only a problem for the republican base, which is too small to deliver a victory to McFadden. This claim won’t resonate with the majority of Minnesotan’s.yet it’s the centerpiece of his campaign? Great, I hope he keeps running with it and doesn’t change a thing.

    He’ll role up his sleeves? Seriously?

    As for slow recoveries… you don’t suppose republican gridlock and filibusters have anything to do with that?

    Well, now that he’s had his fist debate will McFadden stop airing those “I wish Al would debate me” TV ads?

    • Submitted by E Gamauf on 10/02/2014 - 07:35 am.

      The rail cars are back on the tracks & the train is moving.

      Al Franken turned into a Solid Senator.
      One of the good ones.

      All the noise 6 years ago about “being a comedian”
      (forgetting he went to Harvard & has always been interested in politics), the noise is gone.

      Senator Franken has show flashes of wit and he has shown command of the job.
      Now that he’s got one term under his belt – he has some seniority.

      The challenger gets name recognition for being the challenger, for appearing on the podium with the senator, but not for McF’s unknown “plan.”

      I have to smile at the grab bag of tricks they are trying,
      borrowing from other past campaigns & trying to mold a campaign from random parts.

  6. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 10/01/2014 - 02:23 pm.

    The odd couple

    This is as bizarre a pairing of candidates as I can remember coming across in quite a few previous elections. The comedy writer turned boring policy wonk vs. the investment banker who purports to be a “man of the people” who will build consensus.

    To my knowledge, “consensus” is not even a tiny part of any national Republican’s game plan. “Fixing things in Washington” might require McFadden to cooperate with people whose ideology he dislikes – or that he become dictator for life, a la Mussolini. Maybe one of the debate questions should be, “On what issues in the past 5 years have you taken a public position substantially different from that of your Party?” Phrased that way, I don’t think Franken’s alleged 97% is likely to be much different from McFadden’s percentage.

    Of course, McFadden may not *have* any public policy positions that go back 5 years. Most of what pass for policy positions in his campaign so far are simply ideologically-based boilerplate. Not many are specific enough to even evaluate, much less decide on agreement or disagreement.

  7. Submitted by Bob Quarrels on 10/01/2014 - 08:43 pm.

    The 97%

    The Senator–and I’m for him–needs a better response to McFadden’s sniping than discrediting the statistics. Especially when the challenger tees it up–if you don’t want gridlock, you can’t blame me for voting with the president.

    • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 10/02/2014 - 10:32 am.

      Maybe but…

      I think Franken’s ignoring that line of attack because he knows it’s not resonating with most voters in MN. If he counters it effectively McFadden might actually stumble into a more effective strategy. Don’t interrupt your opponent when they’re making a big mistake. So far McFadden is running a stupid campaign full of swings and misses, let him swing.

      Franken shouldn’t respond to McFadden’s attack, but he can always open a can of whoop-ass by detailing all the great bills he’s voted for and explain how they’ve been good for MN.

  8. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 10/01/2014 - 10:12 pm.

    Favorite moment: Hannah Nicollet says “Wealth is stuff”…Dayton got that right away…sharp as a tack.

    • Submitted by Richard Schulze on 10/02/2014 - 06:26 pm.

      Smart move by Dayton when he insisted Ms. Nicollet be included in the remaining debates.

      • Submitted by Thomas Swift on 10/02/2014 - 10:29 pm.

        Yeah, it’s almost like he looked over and saw Tom Horner in shining white armor.

        • Submitted by jason myron on 10/03/2014 - 03:29 pm.


          you people can come up with more excuses to lose than anyone. At some point the light will pop on above your head and you’ll come to the realization that your party is just repugnant to most people.

        • Submitted by E Gamauf on 10/04/2014 - 05:29 am.

          Play pretend. Are you a “we need a 3rd party guy”

          Aren’t you marginalizing the viability of a 3rd party?
          Its a tea party thing isn’t it.

          What Dayton said is true: as a legitimate voter block which has met the minimum requirement,
          her party should be included in the debates for this office.

          The same was true of Ralph Nader in the past presidential run.

          I’d say – “participate at least in the early debate(s).”
          But to draw a dividing line, is playing big brother & saying:

          “yes, you can stay up & play the game, but only until 9 PM. At 9 you must toddle off to bed.”

  9. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 10/02/2014 - 07:51 am.

    Vapid and vague–the McFadden strategy.

    He’s smarter than he seems.

    Perhaps his passion lies with “financial reform”? After all, that is his life. And small changes there will make the most difference to the people he lives and works with.

    Why do you think he campaigns as “a man of the people” and is “ready to roll up his sleeves and get to work”?

    • Submitted by E Gamauf on 10/02/2014 - 09:20 am.

      Tabula Sasa & Red Power Ties

      Well, I wondered about those folksy shirts! 🙂

      The challenger might be a nice guy & he may be smarter than he appears,
      but I’m not looking for a new best friend and his policies are, as you said – vague.

      He SAYS he’s got plans, but they’re marked “Do not open until 2015.”

  10. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 10/03/2014 - 08:44 am.

    In some ways this is too easy

    I mean, look, McFadden will vote against Obama 100% of the time, but he’s leveling “partisan” accusations against Franken for voting 97%, how does that work?

    Frankly, I don’t think people care if Franken voted 97% or 50%, but a guy who’s gonna vote 100% against is a recipe or gridlock and people are tired of that. I don’t think MN voters want yet another vote for repealing Obamacare or filing a lawsuit against the President. I think its pretty clear that McFadden wants to derail the train, not get one back on track. Hey, that’s a good one, I gift it to the Franken Campaign free of charge!

    • Submitted by E Gamauf on 10/04/2014 - 05:07 am.

      Thinking in Hiccups

      Creating artificial reasons as stand-ins for real differences.
      McF has got NO vote record to criticize.

      What else would does the challenger run on?
      If he said what he was for & people realize they mostly disagree – he’s got NO campaign.

      • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 10/06/2014 - 09:23 am.

        Franken had no vote record

        I don’t remember him making THAT big of a deal out of Coleman’s voting record, he just sold himself as better than Coleman. But then again Franken ran a good campaign.

        • Submitted by E Gamauf on 10/06/2014 - 12:02 pm.

          Al Franken did NOT run as “I’m Not Coleman”

          I agree: I don’t remember Franken running as the anti-Coleman, per se.
          He ran on his own vision for the future.

          That is not how McF is running today. He is running as an alternative without being able to give a good account of himself, let alone why we need somebody different.

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