Flush with campaign money and buoyed by the Republican endorsement, political newcomer Mike McFadden seems a lock to win the Aug. 12 GOP primary.
“In order to beat McFadden you need money, money, money and you need it right away and you need to be using it effectively to indicate why you're a credible alternative.”Carleton College political scientist Steven Schier
Some Republicans, though, still think the businessman is the wrong choice to run against DFL Sen. Al Franken. They're working now to spread that doubt among potential voters.
McFadden's rivals are hoping Minnesotans have soured on big money politicians and are eager to support campaigns of people more like them instead of millionaires.
"We need people in the Senate who have a different background than just being wealthy and being able to be in politics," said David Carlson, a St. Paul teacher challenging McFadden in the primary. He called McFadden an "empty suit."
Carlson, an Iraq war veteran, won more than 35 percent of the GOP Senate primary vote two years ago. He's also run for the Legislature and claims a growing following. He argues that his support for same-sex marriage, abortion rights and anti-bullying legislation could bring more voters to the Republican Party.
Strapped for cash -- he says he has only has about $1,000 in campaign money -- Carlson has produced some Internet campaign videos he's hoping will watch catch on.
State Rep. Jim Abeler, another GOP primary contender, says his 16 years of experience in the Minnesota House make him a smarter choice to work in Washington. "I don't think (McFadden's) qualified to be the U.S. senator," Abeler said. "It's not a talent you pick up on the job."
McFadden's never run before for office, but says his lack of political experience is a good thing. Across the country, he said, the "professional class of politician ... it's killing us."
Like Carlson, Abeler's tried to turn his lack of big-money, special-interest support into a selling point for primary voters.
McFadden and Franken, he said, have "received such large amounts of money from so many people with wealth and fame and power that they're not going to be able to be their own person. They're going to go and be beholden to these interests."
Federal Election Commission reports show Abeler had a little less than $14,000 in campaign cash through the end of March. McFadden had $1.8 million. Al Franken had almost $6 million.
Republicans lost the last Senate election two years ago by a whopping 35 percentage points.
McFadden's GOP endorsement may be a sign that Republican leaders have learned they need well-funded candidates, not ideologues, to win statewide races, said Carleton College political scientist Steven Schier.
None of McFadden's challengers appear strongly positioned to win next month's primary, he added.
"In order to beat McFadden you need money, money, money and you need it right away and you need to be using it effectively to indicate why you're a credible alternative to Mike McFadden," Schier said. "So far that money just isn't there for the rivals."