With their convention behind them, Minnesota's Republican leaders hope their party's endorsement of businessman Mike McFadden will bring millions of dollars and national attention to what's been considered a second-tier race for U.S. Senate.
DFL Sen. Al Franken has been widely viewed as a safe bet for re-election, so the race has received scant attention from groups capable of steering big outside money to candidates on both sides of the aisle.
But now that it appears McFadden will be on the ballot in November, a broader coalition of national donors and political groups may throw their weight behind the former investment banker.
It's still too early to say whether wealthy donors outside the state and national organizations like the National Republican Senatorial Committee will pour more money into the Franken-McFadden match-up as they try to swing the Senate to the GOP. But McFadden's endorsement changes the dynamics of the contest, said Chris Tiedeman, one of two Minnesotans on the Republican National Committee.
"There's a clear indication — more clear than before — that Minnesota is on the map, and that Al Franken is a huge target," said Tiedeman. "In order for the Republicans to win a majority, Minnesota has to be a part of the conversation."
As proof, Tiedeman points to a tweet sent by Rob Engstrom, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's national political director, when McFadden was endorsed.
The chamber has long been a fundraising and spending juggernaut, running ads for promising Republican candidates.
Republicans argue a key reason the race may attract more attention is that the party is unified around a single candidate. While McFadden will still face a primary challenge from Anoka state Rep. Jim Abeler, his presence in the race won't prevent McFadden from getting an early start focusing his time and resources on introducing himself to general election voters, say political analysts.
Republicans also point out that McFadden is relatively well funded, with nearly $1.8 million in the bank.
If Republicans outside of Minnesota start investing heavily in McFadden's campaign, it could also help Franken expand his own fundraising operation and draw assistance from groups that can raise and spend unlimited amounts of money on candidates.
Franken's relative security compared to a slew of very competitive Senate races in other parts of the country has prevented his race from being a top priority for national groups — and that could be preventing him from getting more outside help, said Jennifer Duffy, senior editor of the Cook Political Report, a nonpartisan elections newsletter.
"We have this rated 'likely Democrat', meaning it has the potential to become competitive, but it isn't quite there yet," said Duffy, who analyzes and rates political campaigns. "In a cycle like this, where there are so many competitive Democratic seats, that probably stands in the way of Franken's fundraising more than anything else," she said. "If I really wanted to help Senator Franken, I would move the race to a more competitive column."
With a vast network of donors in and outside of Minnesota, Franken hasn't had trouble raising money. He had $6 million in the bank at the end of March. Analysts say he is well positioned to start his campaign.
Still, the early start may be a good thing for her side of the aisle when it comes to raising money, said Carrie Lucking, executive director of the Alliance for a Better Minnesota, a political group that spends money on behalf of DFL candidates.
"We might need resources and greater financial contributions earlier," she said. McFadden business ties "could mean a lot of corporate money coming in. That creates a good cause on our side to raise the kind of money we need to defeat that."
Last week, the Alliance for a Better Minnesota created a federal political action committee that can raise and spend money on behalf of Franken, and Americans for Responsible Solutions, a group founded by former Arizona U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords that supports pro-gun control candidates, has pledged to back Franken.
For its part, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has always considered Franken's race to be important, said DSCC spokesman Justin Barasky.
"Senator Franken has always been a strong fundraiser, but I think that now that the race is shifting into general election mode, it means more outside money coming in on the Republican side," he said. "Democratic donors will want to respond in kind."