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Franken's Republican foes' debate centers on defense

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Republican Senate forum
Republican candidates campaigning for the U.S. Senate debate Tuesday, Apr. 1, 2014 at the Jewish Community Center / Barry Family Campus in St. Louis Park. From left to right are State Rep. Jim Abeler, David Carlson, Peter Swanson (standing in for candidate Chris Dahlberg), Mike McFadden, forum moderator Mark Miller, Monti Moreno, state Sen. Julianne Ortman and Phillip Parrish.
Jennifer Simonson/MPR News

Several Minnesota Republicans vying to run against  U.S. Sen. Al Franken this fall sharply criticized the Democrat during a candidate forum in St. Louis Park on Tuesday.

The candidates spent much of their time talking about national defense issues at the Republican Jewish Coalition-sponsored forum. All said they opposed Obama administration proposals to pare back the size of the military.

"Global hot spots are increasing right? And the world is a more dangerous place. Why are we proposing to cut the military now? We're sending the wrong message to our allies and to our enemies," said state Sen. Julianne Ortman.

  They also blamed the Democrat for not cracking down on U.S. government spying on Americans. 

State Rep. Jim Abeler said the U.S. should look toward Israel's practice of "selective" intelligence screening.

  "When you treat everybody as though they're the enemy, we all could be the enemy," Abeler said. "You could be detained because they might suspect you and that's ridiculous."

Iraq war veteran David Carlson, Naval Reserve Intelligence officer  Phillip Parrish and businessman Monti Moreno also participated in the debate.

Candidates also targeted Franken for helping pass the Affordable Care Act. Businessman and political newcomer Mike McFadden accused the senator of having the wrong game plan.

"He thinks the federal government is the answer and he's wrong," McFadden said. 

With the exception of David Carlson, all candidates at the forum said they supported "personhood" legislation which holds that  life begins at conception.

"I believe in pro-life at conception," McFadden said.

After the debate McFadden spokesman Tom Erickson said McFadden is "pro-life and believes life begins at conception, but believes in reasonable exceptions such as rape, incest, and life of the mother."

McFadden is far and away the front-runner among the Republican hopefuls in the money race. He ended last year with almost $ 1.7 million in campaign cash. Franken ended 2013 with $4.8 million.

 Editor's note: An earlier version of this report included Mike McFadden among the candidates who support personhood legislation. The report has been clarified with more details of McFadden's position.