With campaign season finally drawing to an end, the two major party candidates for U.S. Senate, incumbent Democrat Al Franken and Republican challenger Mike McFadden, met at the Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul Sunday night. It was contentious, but also showed surprising points of agreement between the two.
Listen: The final US Senate debate
Over the past 18 months, the fundamentals of this race have stayed constant.
Franken has kept a lead in opinion polls of between 7 to 15 points depending on the pollster.
Franken has also held a huge financial edge over McFadden that he's used to flood the TV airwaves with ads.
And Franken is running in a state that twice voted for President Obama over Republican candidates and has sent Democrats to the U.S. Senate for the past three elections.
Still, McFadden, an investment banker and first-time candidate, argued that Franken hasn't been engaged with Minnesota voters.
"I can't tell you the number of times that I have been in counties and cities where they haven't seen you, Al. And where they say you've not been accessible," he said.
On the other hand, McFadden embraced Minnesota's other Democratic senator, who also happens to be the state's most popular politician by a mile.
"My respect for Amy Klobuchar has increased so much in terms of her work ethic. She's everywhere," he said, praising Klobuchar multiple times, calling her an effective, bipartisan dealmaker, enough so that one of the moderators, MPR News host Kerri Miller wondered aloud whether, if elected, McFadden "would be a senator like Amy Klobuchar? That seems a little odd."
Franken, meanwhile, touted his record of working across the aisle on issues big and small.
"I teamed up with Sen. Lamar Alexander, Republican of Tennessee, to do the first reform of our workforce training system since 1998," he said.
In another attempt to broaden his appeal, McFadden also embraced a number of policies that could potentially put him at odds with many members of the Senate Republican caucus if he wins the election.
McFadden said he would have voted for the immigration bill that Franken supported that the Republican controlled U.S. House never voted on.
He also said Internet service providers shouldn't be able to charge some companies more than others for using their networks, a position Franken has long advocated.
When asked a question from the audience about student loan debt, McFadden was quick to answer: "I'd like to see students be able to refinance their loans."
That's actually a position Franken and other Democrats in the Senate pushed for until it was blocked by a Republican filibuster.
One big area of contrast between the candidates was on foreign policy, particularly how to handle negotiations with Iran about its nuclear program.
"The idea of negotiating with Iran I think is a horrendous idea. I think the decision by this President and administration to lift the trade embargo on Iran was a terrible, terrible idea," McFadden said.
That's not actually true. Only a small portion of the overall embargo has been suspended.
Franken defended the international negotiations currently underway and the administration's handling of them.
"The sanctions worked, that's what got them to the table. Their economy is crippled," Franken said.
In his closing remarks, McFadden explicitly called on voters to send him to Washington as a rebuke to President Obama.
"I think the decision is simple here. If you think the president has done a good job then vote for Al Franken," McFadden said.
Franken argued that while he may have once written a book titled, "Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot and Other Observations," his narrow 312 vote victory in 2008 made him appreciate that he doesn't just represent the state's Democrats.
"I went to Washington to get work done, to work for the people of Minnesota. I vote for Minnesota," he said.
Both candidates are spending the final full day of the campaign trying to turn out as many of their supporters as they can.
McFadden will campaign with congressional candidates in the 6th and 7th congressional districts, home to the state's biggest concentration of conservative voters.
Franken plans to spend the day rallying college students and union members in the metro area.
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