Experience faces newcomer in GOP Senate primary

By Heather J. Carlson, Post-Bulletin, Rochester, Minn.
McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

Aug. 01--The two main Republicans vying for the chance to challenge DFL Sen. Al Franken in November come from sharply different backgrounds.

Jim Abeler is a longtime legislator with a passion for the intricacies of health care policy. His opponent, Mike McFadden, is a political newcomer and business owner who sees his lack of political experience as a key selling point.

Heading into the Aug. 12 primary, McFadden is heavily favored to win, thanks to his having won the Republican Party's endorsement and a massive fundraising advantage. But Abeler, a chiropractor from Anoka, argues voters should pick the party's standard bearer not based on who has the money but who has the most knowledge and experience.

Abeler asked, "The choice really is do you want the guy with the money who doesn't have the experience or content or would you rather have a guy who actually knows how to work with people and get things done?"

McFadden strongly rejects the idea that the best candidate must have political experience in order to be successful on Capitol Hill.

"I believe that the biggest issue right now in this country is we've created this professional class of politicians, and it's killing us," he said. "We need people with real-life experience."

Other Republicans on the primary ballot include David Carlson, Patrick Munro and perennial candidate Ole Savior.

Abeler, 60, unsuccessfully sought the party's endorsement at its state convention in May in Rochester. He said the single biggest challenge facing America is the inability of politicians to work together to solve problems.

"They can't agree on anything. The problems themselves are hard enough, but they are incapable of getting off of the rhetoric, and so then the problems become even more great problems," he said.

If elected, Abeler said his number one goal would be to shrink the ballooning national debt. To do that, he said it will require tough choices about the nation's entitlement spending. In particular, he would focus on making strategic cuts to the Medicaid program. He said he would also push changes aimed at improving the way Medicare is managed and rooting out fraud in Medicare Advantage programs.

McFadden said the nation's stagnant economy is the biggest threat to the country's future and his primary goal if elected would be pursuing policies aimed at generating economic growth.

"I can tell you Minnesotans feel like we're falling behind because wages haven't increased over six years, the economy has been absolutely flat, but every expense is going up whether it be gasoline, energy, health care, education. We have less money in our pockets, and it doesn't have to be that way," he said.

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A central part of McFadden's plan to jumpstart the economy relies on increasing access to cheap, reliable energy. That includes advocating for completion of the Keystone XL Pipeline and fast-tracking 24 natural gas plants in the process of being permitted across the nation.

"We're sitting on the doorstep of an energy renaissance. We have the opportunity to be energy independent for the first time since the 1960s, if we allow it to happen," he said.

Both candidates oppose Obamacare and want significant changes to the nation's health care system.

Abeler said there's no use talking about repealing Obamacare because it won't happen with President Obama in office.

"No person who is astute on the topic thinks it's going to be repealed. It makes a nice slogan and I wish (Obamacare) would go away. For the money spent, it's been a negative for Minnesota," he said.

Instead, Abeler wants to make changes to the law that are based on practices that have worked in Minnesota. He also wants to scrap the individual mandate, which requires individuals to have health insurance.

McFadden wants to replace Obamacare in favor of a state-based solution. He said Minnesota is well-poised to come up with a better plan, thanks in large part to the expertise found at Mayo Clinic, the University of Minnesota and other health care institutions.

"What I don't advocate is going back to the old system," McFadden said. "I'm a businessman. I'm a problem solver. We have a health care issue and I just think we have to come up with a better solution, and the solution has to include providing affordable health care to people with pre-existing conditions."

Another area of concern for Abeler centers on foreign policy. He said he is deeply concerned with America's behavior abroad.

"Our foreign policy is a shambles, where our friends don't trust us and our enemies don't fear us," he said.

If sent to Washington, D.C., McFadden said he would also advocate for changes to the education system aimed at solving the achievement gap. In particular, he said he wants money used to support failing school districts to instead be used to establish charter schools.

"We have some great public schools in this state but unfortunately we don't have great public schools for everyone," he said. "In fact, we have the worst outcomes in the country for minority students."

Ultimately, Abeler said Republicans should not be afraid to vote for him simply because he doesn't have as much money as McFadden. He said if he were to win the primary, dollars would start flowing to his campaign. The important thing is that he has a strong set of principles that would guide him, he said.

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"If you send a person to Washington who is getting a lot of money from people and has no content and experience, the people who give him the money are going to own him," Abeler said.

McFadden's pitch to voters is simple: He has spent his business career finding solutions to tough problems and will put those skills to work in the U.S. Senate.

"The level of partisanship has become so extreme in our country," he said. "I think Al Franken is part of that problem, not part of the solution. I know how to fix problems."


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