On Sunday morning, United States Senator Al Franken and Republican challenger Mike McFadden debated the issues that Minnesota voters will have to decide on come November 3. The two traded barbs about Ebola, ISIS and terrorists recruiting in their state on local CBS television. The two men had opposing strategies as Franken ran on his record as a Democratic senator. McFadden, on the other hand, sought to use that record against him, labelling him as one of the most partisan senators in politics. Just how well these strategies have worked out will be revealed on election day, but recent polling has Franken in the lead.
The first question of the debate was about a travel ban due to the Ebola crisis, with the two men’s answers falling mostly on partisan grounds. McFadden, a Republican, echoed his fellow party members’ calls for a travel ban, calling it common sense. Franken was not as supportive, saying that it would be an ineffective measure in the fight against Ebola. In that respect, his opinion agrees with health officials and the White House. But he deviated from partisanship by saying that he ultimately had nothing against instituting a ban.
The next issue was terrorism, with the fight against ISIS taking center stage. Once again, Franken had a voting record to point to in which he voted for measures to fight ISIS. He even noted that he had some trepidation about how effective they might be, but with the severity of the threat in mind he voted for them anyway. On that point, McFadden could do little to attack him. Instead, he focused on what he had said he would support, namely revoking passports for Americans who fight with ISIS.
On the whole, the debate and much of the campaign has centered around Al Franken’s record as a senator and his Minnesota challenger has sought to capitalize on what he has labelled as extreme partisanship. McFadden has called the Democrat an “old school progressive liberal and attacked his voting record. According to McFadden, Franken has voted with Obama 97 percent of the time. The point of all this is to paint a picture of a hardcore, ideological Democrat who puts party ahead of the people he represents.
This contradicts the image that Franken has put forward as a bi-partisan operator in a deadlocked political realm. He has emphasized his work for the community and the work he has done in the Senate to reach across the aisle and work with Republicans. When McFadden made his 97 percent remark, Franken took the opportunity to use comedy to throw shade on the figure. “Let me write that down,” he said, “or I’ll forget it.” Franken, a Saturday Night Live alum, is using all the tricks to fight back against the stigma of his record.
Sunday’s debate was a test of these strategies as both men went head to head on television. There are plenty of emotionally charged issues to discuss during this midterm season and both men made a relatively good show of it. The poll numbers may have Franken ahead, but he is not resting on his laurels. His seat is one of the crucial ones in trying to maintain the Democrats position in the Senate and he is taking that fact very seriously. As for McFadden, he hopes to upset the Democrats hopes and give the GOP even more power. The debate between Al Franken and his Republican challenger in Minnesota is an important point for both men, but in the larger scheme of American politics, it has even greater importance.
By Lydia Bradbury