By Don Davis
REDWOOD FALLS, Minn. — Republicans want to link U.S. Sen. Al Franken with President Barack Obama, who is not popular among many farmers.
College Republicans have begun making that point by carrying an Obama cutout at Franken appearances, starting Wednesday at southwest Minnesota’s Farmfest agriculture event.
It was not clear how effective the attempt would be as farmers greeted Franken warmly. One, for instance, pointed to the Obama photo and said that he has to go. But when asked about Franken, the reply was that he was doing fine.
Likely Franken opponent Republican Mike McFadden used a Farmfest candidate forum to emphasize the tie: “Sen. Franken has voted with the president 97 percent of the time.”
Franken, McFadden and state Rep. Jim Abeler, another Republican Senate candidate, spent considerable time at the forum talking about the time they have spent on the farm, even though they live in the Twin Cities.
The incumbent went in front of hundreds of farmers and rattled off work he has done during five years in office on their behalf, while his challengers countered that they could do better.
“I know how hard you have worked,” Franken told the Farmfest audience. “My job is to work just as hard for you.”
McFadden said after the forum that he was successful at getting his point across that “I care.” And, he added, he agrees with farmers who “want a government that is less intrusive.”
The Farmfest U.S. Senate forum produced no surprises in the first time Franken and McFadden met on stage. The forum also included Abeler, who is far back in fundraising but said he believes he has a chance to upend heavily funded McFadden in Tuesday’s Republican primary election.
Also in the GOP primary is David Carlson, who has made little noise in the campaign. The forum also included the Independence Party’s Kevin Terrell.
The challengers generally emphasized the need for a government that orders citizens around less, and accused Franken of being one who likes government control.
“I am afraid government is going to mess it up,” McFadden said of farm programs.
Added Abeler: “I fear for the plight of greater Minnesota.” He said a multitude of problems are on the horizon, from finding workers to health care issues to grocery stores “being further and further away.”
Abeler and McFadden said they want to be on the Senate Agriculture Committee. McFadden criticized Franken for not sitting on the committee that deals with issues important to rural Minnesota.
At every opportunity, Franken recited his work on farm issues, including on a farm bill that set federal agriculture programs for the next five years.
The Environmental Protection Agency was a favorite target, with candidates knowing farmers do not like many of that federal agency’s requirements. At the top of candidates’ and farmers’ minds is a federal rule that defines many waters as “navigable” and places restrictions on their use.
Abeler said some streams the rule defines as navigable could not carry a canoe 10 feet.
Franken said he supports farmers and is fighting the rule.
McFadden and Franken differed in degrees when they spoke about energy.
Franken said he supports diverse energy sources, and since Minnesota does not have fossil fuel he concentrates on crop-based fuels such as ethanol and biodiesel.
McFadden, on the other hand, said the country needs “all forms of energy” and more pipelines to move some forms of energy such as oil and natural gas.
Franken said that on a key pipeline vote, for the Keystone XL, he supported making it out of U.S. steel (which would help Minnesota’s Iron Range) and require all the oil it carries to be sold in this country.
McFadden said he would support the Keystone even if steel came from China, as long as the Chinese government did not subsidize it.
Carlson positioned himself as an independent Republican, saying voters “do not want to trade one 97 percent for another 97 percent,” indicating that McFadden would vote the Republican line most of the time.
Terrell said that as an independent, he would hold a key Senate vote if the body is equally divided next year as he expects.