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McFadden unifies the GOP with a convention win, but at the price of DFL’s Bachmann attack

McFadden unifies GOP with convention win
MinnPost photo by Brian Halliday
McFadden’s win means the relative unknown
can hoard more of his multi-million-dollar war
chest against Franken.

When financial advisor and political newcomer Mike McFadden first walked onto the stage at the Minnesota Republican Party’s convention in Rochester Friday afternoon, things looked grim for his campaign. Within moments of his appearance in front of more than 2,000 delegates gathered there, someone yelled from the audience, “Abide by the endorsement!”

He thanked the spectator for their comment, and moments later, another: “Respect the endorsement!”

But nearly 12 hours later, after 10 rounds of balloting and a brief break to give delegates rest from the voting, McFadden took the stage as the party’s endorsed candidate in the U.S. Senate race — greatly aided by Rep. Michele Bachmann, who has always championed abiding.

The endorsement is a rare blessing given to outsiders in Republican politics, especially a candidate who said from the start he would move on to an August primary election. McFadden, of Sunfish Lake, has taken a leave of absence as co-CEO of Lazard Middle Market based in Minneapolis.

He beat out five other candidates, including initial vote front-runner and St. Louis County Commissioner Chris Dahlberg and state Sen. Julianne Ortman. He will almost certainly now face incumbent U.S. Sen. Al Franken in the November general election, though candidate and state Rep. Jim Abeler has not yet promised to abide by the endorsing process.

McFadden’s win means the relative unknown can hoard more of his multi-million-dollar war chest against Franken, who right now has even more cash-on-hand. But DFLers were already trying to exact the price of that win — Bachmann’s endorsement — to define McFadden as ideologically extreme.

“It’s only the end of the beginning,” a hoarse and visibly exhausted McFadden told the crowd of activists Saturday afternoon after winning the endorsement. 

The ‘resources’ to win

His victory reflects changing attitudes within activist ranks regarding the GOP endorsement process in Minnesota, which produced two candidates in 2010 and 2012 — gubernatorial nominee Tom Emmer and U.S. Senate candidate Kurt Bills — who vastly underperformed expectations.

But there was more than that to McFadden’s victory Saturday. In the governor’s endorsing contest, which immediately followed the Senate race, former Speaker Kurt Zellers and businessman Scott Honour didn’t even seek the endorsement after telling activists they planned to run in a primary. Former House Minority Leader Marty Seifert, who also refused to abide by the endorsement, did seek the blessing of activists but walked out of the convention with low vote totals and drew the ire of party leadership when he reportedly tried to block anyone from getting the endorsement.

Despite not promising to abide, McFadden pumped considerable resources into winning the endorsement — outside of the impressive firecrackers and streamers he launched off after his first speech to activists. His campaign put out thousands of calls to potential delegates ahead of the contest, campaign staff said.

Fundraising also became a critical factor for some activists, while not playing a major role in the governor’s race. That’s because Franken currently has more than $6 million in his campaign war chest, far more than DFL Gov. Mark Dayton. With the Republican Party of Minnesota still roughly $1.1 million in debt, McFadden touted his ability to raise cash for his race.

He has about $1.8 million on hand for his campaign, while his closest challenger for the endorsement, Dahlberg, had just $39,000 on hand as of the last reporting period. “We need to have the resources to [beat Franken], and I’ve proven I can do that,” he said. 

He also benefited from a contest in which many activists’ walked into the convention undecided in the race. That was evident after the first ballot when candidate Phillip Parrish — an intelligence specialist in the U.S. Navy Reserve with little profile in the party and no campaign operation to speak of — managed to gather 16 percent of the vote after delivering a rousing, red-meat conservative speech to delegates.

Many voters flocked to his campaign after being unimpressed by the top candidate speeches. Dahlberg led on the first ballot, much to everyone’s surprise, while McFadden and Ortman came in a close second and third. Ortman was the favorite to earn the endorsement after winning a straw poll of activists back in October.

“I think a lot of people walked in here today not knowing who they were going to support,” said GOP operative Gregg Peppin, who predicted a strong initial showing from Dahlberg.

A protracted battle  

Dahlberg gave the most conservative opening speech to delegates, taking a jab at McFadden’s former position on Second Amendment rights. “I’m a little troubled when we have candidates in this race who say we need more background checks,” Dahlberg said, referring to a position McFadden once held. 

But after the first few ballots, Ortman trained her fire on Dahlberg, passing out lit pieces that questioned the accuracy of several of his claims to delegates. McFadden went relatively unscathed and handed out flyers touting a growing number of endorsements from legislative Republicans.  By the fifth round of balloting, Ortman was barely dropped from the contest, failing to get at least 20 percent support.

With no movement between Dahlberg, in the lead, and McFadden, activists opted to recess at 2 a.m. and pick the contest up in the early morning Saturday.

Chris Dahlberg
MinnPost photo by Brian Halliday
“I’m a little troubled when we have candidates in this race who say we need more background checks,” Chris Dahlberg said, referring to a position McFadden once held.

When activists reconvened the next day, McFadden quickly released a flyer featuring his photo next to Bachmann’s, who had thrown her support behind his campaign. (You can read more about the machinations here.) She still holds considerable sway with the conservative ranks of the party. He also gave one final speech to delegates, delivering on some of the red meat activists wanted, calling himself staunchly pro-life and pledging to defend the right to bear arms.

On the ninth ballot, McFadden pulled ahead of Dahlberg 53 to 45 percent of support. A tenth ballot was submitted and tallied, but Dahlberg withdrew from the race before the results were revealed.

“Together, all of us in this room as a team, will fight and we will win,” Dahlberg said. “In November, we will beat Al Franken.”

DFL training fire  

McFadden’s next big challenge is beating a well-funded Franken and attacks from the DFL Party of Minnesota.

The DFL has been focusing on McFadden for months, criticizing him for not showing up to GOP candidate forums and avoiding taking positions on many policies. Many observers felt McFadden didn’t want to be put in the position to move too far to the right to get the endorsement and then have it used against him in a statewide campaign against Franken.

DFLers, via Bachmann, are already saying he did. 

In a memo to reporters after McFadden’s endorsement, DFL Party Chair Ken Martin described his victory as by “the skin of his teeth and only with an endorsement from Tea-Party extremist Michele Bachmann — running on a platform of touting his ability to raise money, and policy positions that would continue to hurt Minnesota families masked in platitudes and poll-tested talking points.”

The Democrats are also drawing parallels between McFadden and a dysfunctional Congress, touting his ties to the GOP establishment in Washington. Former Republican Minnesota U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman was one of the early backers of his campaign.

“McFadden says we’ve ‘created a professional class of politicians, and it is killing us,’” Martin wrote. “Yet he’s spent his entire campaign touting endorsements from entrenched Republicans in Washington like Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Speaker John Boehner.”

– Cyndy Brucato contributed reporting to this story 

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Comments (12)

  1. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 06/02/2014 - 09:25 am.

    This is kind of encouraging but…

    Its nice to see the GOP moderating a little but there’s still no “there” there. They still don’t have any ideas or policies beyond magic, i.e. magic tax cuts and magic small governments.

    One has to wonder how deep this moderation really goes? I suspect it’s just a rhetorical adjustment akin to a “re-branding” campaign. Like saying they’re not going to make an issue out of voter ID… until they get elected.

    McFadden’s problem is that he comes across as the typical arrogant CEO who always thinks he’s the smartest guy in the room. McFadden thinks that democrats who grow GDPS, lower unemployment, and erase republican budget deficits don’t know how economies work. Problem with THAT is guys like McFadden steered our economy into the worst recession in 80 years after spending decades promising us that such recessions were impossible. Once the recession began bankers like McFadden spent what? 6 years? telling that they it was all just a “cycle” and that they “expected” recovery in the next 6 months.

    McFadden may know how the economy works for the top 5% or so, but I’m thinking voters still remember that all that defference to the “job creators” never really created any jobs, it was government spending of one kind or the other that created jobs in the end. And jobs or no jobs people see their paychecks and notice that they’ve not gotten double digit increases and bonuses like the McFadden’s of this world. People just aren’t as enamored with corporate CEO’s as they used to be. Turns out these guys often don’t actually know how run anything, they step into something that’s already running and collect huge paychecks just for being there. If a companies lucky these guys don’t do any damage.

    The problem is that the GOP realizing they need a broader base is kind of like a room full of dogs deciding someone needs to play the violin. Given the talent in the room it’s just not going to happen. The GOP still hasn’t accepted the fact that we actually had a health care crises in this country, and THAT was one of the more obvious problems.

  2. Submitted by James Hamilton on 06/02/2014 - 10:08 am.

    McFadden’s “No Positions” strategy

    seems to have worked thus far. I’m curious to see whether and/or how long he sticks to it, now that the race is on between him and Franken.

  3. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 06/02/2014 - 10:08 am.

    Positions on issues

    I expect at some point, the focus groups Mr. McFadden is paying for well get back to him and tell him what he thinks. I, for one, am looking forward to hearing some really expensive nuance.

  4. Submitted by Bill Kahn on 06/02/2014 - 12:20 pm.

    It doesn’t matter what the guy’s positions were, are or will be since now that he is now part of the Michele Bachmann Experience, it defines him. Once you have gone so far in that direction, you cannot moderate your positions for the general election enough no matter how much you spend.

    The MN GOP might have better luck with the chiropractor, but their activists have made their win this race much more unlikely for them.

    I’m not looking forward to the barrage of Koch brothers and other right wing dark money anti-Franken ads this fall.

    The GOP gubernatorial machinations until then should be very entertaining as well.

  5. Submitted by Dan Kaufman on 06/02/2014 - 12:56 pm.

    Will Minnesota Republicans pay their bills?

    If the Minnesota Republican Party is $1.1 million in debt, then how do they pay for this convention? Seems like typical Republican financial irresponsibility. In my household, we pay off one set of bills before racking up new charges. I hope the Rochester Convention Center, hotels, caterers, etc got their payments up front from the Minnesota GOP.

    If the Minnesota Republican Party cannot even pay their own debts from past campaigns, how can they be trusted for State or Federal offices?

    • Submitted by Bob Petersen on 06/03/2014 - 08:30 am.

      Will Democrats ever pay the bill?

      Funny stab at a private organization – while run amok for a few years – is on the way to actually pay back their debts. It’s not like our DFL friends who raised $2 billion in new taxes plus over $1 billion in the most recent bonding and also raised our state’s spending over 12% on the backs of other people’s money. At least the GOP is getting money on their own for their debts unlike the DFL who thinks they own all of our money.

  6. Submitted by Patrick Munro on 06/02/2014 - 10:18 pm.

    My Candidacy

    I filed this afternoon for the Republican nomination for the US Senate. I am bootstrap conservative and I know what it is like to struggle as a business owner etc. I do not believe that Mr. McFadden is the person that can represent Minnesotans that are struggling in our weak economy. I am running to give the people of Minnesota another option. I do hold Al Franken in very low regard as his policies have been a disaster for working and small business owners of Minnesota. I will be fighting for the economic civil rights for all Minnesota households.

  7. Submitted by Roy Everson on 06/03/2014 - 03:24 am.

    Missing the point

    I think you miss the point, Mr. Munro. The GOP delegates, or at least their shepherds, are fully aware that McFadden is not the least bit capable of representing the average Minnesotan. With very little chance of knocking off Franken and an expensive goober primary, Mac’s Millions will employ a GOTV drive in the fall to trickle down (yes, trickle down) to the legislative races, the party’s only realistic goal in November.

  8. Submitted by Tom Christensen on 06/03/2014 - 07:59 am.

    Next up the Republican political blood bath

    From now until the Republican primary will be the free for all where each Republican candidate will be required to do the obligatory political dance to prove why the other person isn’t qualified to be the Republican candidate. In most cases they will be right. Their main problem will be to find out what the other person is for, as we all know what they are against. The list of what each is for will be short and pointless because it will be based on the failed talking points of a broken and literally bankrupt, in all respects, party. Choose wisely voters.

  9. Submitted by Arthur Horowitz on 06/03/2014 - 04:26 pm.

    There is no mystery, we know where McFadden stands!

    In order to gain the Republican endorsement one has to be first and foremost against a women’s right to abortion, any form of gun control and Obamacare. It is generally helpful to be against gay marriage, (though the courts have largely made this a moot issue,) contraception, minimum wage, teaching of evolution and sex education in public schools.

    Now what are they and Mr. McFadden for? I’ll bet I know: The ability of Pfizer to prevent re importation of patented prescription drugs they send to Canada at half the U.S. price. (After all this is to protect the public at large because Pfizer no doubt exports “seconds” to Canada.) The ability for Pfizer to buy Glaxo-Smith Kline and incorporate in the U.K. thereby allowing Pfizer to avoid US taxes and pay much lower U.K. corporate taxes. (A takeover blocked by Glaxo-Smith Kline thankfully, even though the tax savings could have allowed both companies to advertise prescription medications with greater frequency on TV.)

    The real question I have for Mr. McFadden what is your stand on incandescent light bulbs. Is it the same as Michelle Bachman’s? Is the right to sell an outdated technology that wastes 60% of the energy it uses as heat to produce light rather than the more efficient CFL a civil right that can’t be outlawed?

    Mr. McFadden, please go find something better to do with your money. Rather than running for the senate, make a large contribution to the Minnesota Orchestra, They’ll put you on the board, you won’t have to go to the concerts, but no matter how much your contribution might be, PLEASE don’t ask to be on the executive committee.

  10. Submitted by Logan Foreman on 06/03/2014 - 09:30 pm.

    So interesting Dahlberg

    Leading at 2 am, recess and a few hours later gives up. So much for the GOP bs on representing greater MN. LOL

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