State Rep. Abeler running for US Senate

Rep. Jim Abeler
Rep. Jim Abeler of Anoka was one of six Republicans to vote in favor of the transportation bill. Abeler said he's taking a lot of heat for opposing Gov. Pawlenty.
MPR Photo/Tom Scheck

Veteran Republican state Rep. Jim Abeler is going to challenge Democratic U.S. Sen. Al Franken in 2014.

A chiropractor who has represented Anoka in the Legislature for 15 years, he announced his candidacy on Tuesday. Like others in his party, he complains "out-of-control" state and federal government spending. But he doesn't always line up with his GOP colleagues -- a political posture that could serve him well in a general election.

In 2008, Abeler was one of just six House Republicans who voted to override then-Gov. Tim Pawlenty's veto of a nickel-a-gallon gas tax increase. Abeler said he voted for the gas tax increase because the state needed more money to repair failing bridges.

Abeler also was one of the few Republicans in the Legislature who pledged to work with Democrats to create a health insurance exchange as part of President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act. Still, Abeler often rails against the federal law, which required the state to create the exchange in the first place

And last year, Abeler backed the presidential campaign of Republican U.S. Rep. Ron Paul of Texas. His support of the libertarian-minded But in 2010, he won the backing of the state's teacher's union, which often favors Democrats.

Those positions will show voters that he's willing to work with people who hold different political ideas, Abeler said.

"I don't think there's anybody in the state in my party who has my background, experience and capability once they get to Washington who can actually make a difference or who can actually have the chance to defeat Al Franken," he said.

During his time in the Legislature, Abeler has focused on the Health and Human Services budget. He said he would continue that focus in the Senate, but said his biggest concern is the federal deficit.

"I'm afraid that we're going to be making decisions about China that will be in China's best interest and not ours, since we owe them so much money and we will no longer be a free country," Abeler said. "That's the big picture which then hones down to human services and the whole process of how the federal government is running America and the state."

Abeler said he'd be reluctant to raise taxes to help erase the federal deficit. He thinks there are plenty of places spending could be cut on the federal level, but did not offer specifics. In the next several months, he plans to meet with Republican delegates and donors to showcase his conservative credentials.

Some of those meetings could be contentious given his support for raising the gas tax, which drew lots of criticism from his fellow Republicans.

Abeler is the second Republican candidate to enter the race. Businessman Mike McFadden of Sunfish Lake announced last month that he was running. McFadden declined interview requests but issued a statement welcoming Abeler to the race.

State Sen. Julianne Ortman, R-Chanhassen, also is considering running for the Senate. She said she's discussing her potential candidacy with family, friends, donors and consultants.

"It's a very big decision," Ortman said. "It's a very big office and so we're taking our time to be deliberate. We're trying to put together the plan to win. It's not just a plan to run. It's a plan to win that we're working on."

Ortman didn't say when she'll make a decision. Republicans have been hoping to find a top tier candidate to challenge Franken next year, given that he won in 2008 by just 312 votes.

Franken likely holds a sizeable lead in fundraising. According to his latest campaign report, filed March 31, he has $2 million in the bank. Franken and his campaign manager, Matt Burgess, have declined to comment on any of his potential challengers.

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