In the race to defeat Al Franken this November, my choice is Mike McFadden.
The candidates for US Senate have been on the trail for several months now, and in that time no major policy differences have emerged between the two major candidates - McFadden and State Senator Julianne Ortman.
Both candidates have made what I will generously call "missteps" in identifying their policy positions - McFadden on guns, Ortman on Obamacare, and both on immigration - but after "clarification" from their campaigns have brought their views into alignment with each other, and within the mainstream of Republican thought.
Comparing the candidates on the issues is a bit tough, as McFadden has an "Issues" page on his website, but Ortman's "News/Issues" page just links to some blog posts.
However, I did listen to Ortman in an interview with Mitch Berg on AM1280 a few weeks ago, and found it telling that when Berg asked her to explain why voters should prefer her in this race, she gave two reasons- first that she would abide by the Republican party's nomination, and then when pressed, she said that she wasn't a candidate who was "hand-picked" by Washington D.C. She passed on the opportunity to note any differences in policy.
In the absence of major policy differences, one must look at the other factors that go into winning an election- namely fundraising, organization, and electability. On all three of these factors, McFadden is the clear winner.
On the fundraising front, McFadden out-raised Ortman in 2013 by almost 10x ($237k to $2.2 million) and ended the year with more than 13x the cash on hand ($117k to $1.6 million).
McFadden is expected to announce another high six figure total in the first quarter of 2014, adding significantly to his lead in this area, and making the gap very difficult to close for Ortman.
I will note, however, that both challengers significantly lag behind Franken, who ended 2013 with over $4 million in his campaign account.
On the organization side, the advantage also goes to McFadden.
Ortman's Campaign Manager is Andy Parrish, who saw success managing the campaign of Michele Bachmann for Congress in 2006, and then saw some early success in Bachmann's 2012 presidential run in Iowa, which eventually fizzled out.
Parrish then returned to Minnesota, where he was Deputy Campaign Director for Minnesotans for Marriage, the group campaigning for the Marriage Amendment in 2012, which was soundly defeated despite initial public support of the measure.
In his role at MFM, Parrish made headlines for his $10,000 per month salary. Ortman's campaign got him at the discounted rate of $6,500 per month in 2013, where his salary accounted for about 10% of all expenses.
On the McFadden side, the campaign is being managed by Brad Herold, who hails from Florida and has extensive state-wide field operations experience there.
McFadden also has a number of other experienced staffers working on his campaign. Tom Erickson, serving as Deputy Campaign Manager was formerly with the MN Jobs Coalition and Coleman for US Senate. Kristen Sheehan is serving as McFadden's finance director. Sheehan served as political director for Norm Coleman's 2008 campaign against Franken. And at the end of 2013 McFadden picked up Kevin Poindexter, a Minnesota native who most recently worked on Chris Christie's successful re-election for Governor of New Jersey.
The salaries paid by McFadden's campaign are more in line with what you'd expect for a campaign at this point. Erickson and Herold's salaries combined are about equal with Parrish's.
Salaries made up about 12% of McFadden's total expenses in 2013, slightly higher than Ortman's rate, though those salaries were spread over 6 staffers to Ortman's one.
Electability is always a subjective measure, but I will remind you once again that there have been no substantive policy differences outlined in this race.
So we're not talking about a moderate RINO squish establishment type vs. a proven rock-ribbed conservative as some would have you believe.
On the contrary, Julianne Ortman, when explaining why she introduced a tax increase in the MN Senate in 2009, described her views on taxes as "somewhere in the fiscal middle". In 2012 she was challenged for the GOP endorsement from the right in her own Senate district, as some of the local activists felt she was too moderate for the district.
During this campaign, however, Ortman has attempted to veer to the far right, picking up endorsements from Sarah Palin, Citizens United, and a collection of no-name Tea Party groups. These endorsements may help her secure the Republican Party endorsement, but will hurt her in the general election.
I understand why Andy Parrish is trying to make Julianne Ortman into Michele Bachmann- after all it's the only recipe that he knows. Why Ortman is actively participating in this redefinition, I will never understand. This tack to the far right doesn't fit her, and it's already lost her some support, including my own. If she goes on to win the primary election, it will lose her more support as we head toward November.
McFadden, on the other hand, is the proverbial blank slate. As a first-time office seeker, he has no legislative record to define him. He does, however, have the DFL/ABM alliance to do that for him. His team needs to begin the process of defining him quickly, and should do it forcefully.
McFadden has taken a more "slow and steady" tack so far in this race, eschewing divisive high profile endorsements in favor of keeping his head down and doing the hard work necessary to raise money and build an organization that can win. I believe this work will pay off down the road, and his campaign gives us the best shot of winning an uphill battle in November.