By Abby Simons, Star Tribune (Minneapolis) (MCT)
MINNEAPOLIS — U.S. Sen. Al Franken has won re-election, according to the Associated Press, which based its analysis on exit poll results.
Early voting results, with fewer than 10 percent of precincts reporting, showed Franken jumping out to a six-point lead over Republican Mike McFadden.
The early results mirrored results of many recent polls that showed Franken with a comfortable margin.
A number of other national news organizations were projecting that Franken would hold onto his seat, based on exit poll analysis.
The race was one of the most closely-watched Senate races in the country, as Republicans are trying to win control of the U.S. Senate and upend the political dynamics in Washington.
The two candidates kept up a relentless campaigning schedule in the hours before the polls closed.
A day after a statewide airplane tour, McFadden began his Tuesday with a 6:40 a.m. stop at the Southwest Park and Ride in Eden Prairie, where he shook hands with morning commuters. From there, McFadden made his way through a half-dozen stops throughout the metropolitan area, including his Sunfish Lake polling place, before watching returns at the GOP election party in downtown Minneapolis.
“As my dad used to say, ‘The hay’s in the barn now,” McFadden said after voting with his wife, Mary Kate, and the eldest three of their six children.
McFadden said he didn’t feel nervous about the returns, which bring an end to an 18-month campaign.
“It’s not a load off my shoulders, it’s a feeling of pride,” he said. “I’m so proud and thankful to have had the opportunity to do this. It’s an honor.”
Franken, who spent recent days criss-crossing the state and metro on DFL bus tours, began his morning at the University of Minnesota, followed by a 10 a.m. stop at his polling place at a downtown Minneapolis church with his wife, Franni, by his side. Franken cast his vote then left, carrying his grandson Joe. Franken conceded that he was “a little nervous,” just as he was six years ago.
“I think the weight will be lifted, if the weight is lifted, it will be tonight when we find out the results,” he said. “This is a lot of people working very hard and one of the things is we don’t want to disappoint the people that worked so hard for you. You don’t want to disappoint the people you’ve worked so hard for. That’s the main burden. Last time it was unresolved and this was difficult.”
Franken had been seen as a ripe target by Republicans ever since he narrowly won the seat by defeating then-Sen. Norm Coleman by 312 votes after a protracted recount.
McFadden is a Sunfish Lake investment banker and political newcomer who was touting his lack of experience as a way to bust up partisan gridlock in Washington.
Money has been pouring into the race, so far more than $20 million from all 50 states. Franken’s $18 million haul triples McFadden’s fundraising. Franken has never trailed in the polls, yet McFadden has been surging and climbed to within a 9-point deficit, according to the latest Star Tribune Minnesota Poll.
The candidates took on starkly different approaches leading up to the election. Franken’s campaign waited until after the August Republican primary to even use his rival’s name, and then launched blistering attacks on McFadden’s business record, claiming he was behind business deals that resulted in massive layoffs and corporate relocating overseas so avoid taxes.
McFadden largely ignored his GOP primary opponents in favor of focusing on Franken as the embodiment of what’s wrong with Washington. The married father of six and CEO of Lazard Middle Market had touted his business experience on the campaign by describing himself as a professional “problem solver.” Early in the campaign, McFadden focused on portraying himself as an everyman with irreverent and polarizing advertisements, including one that garnered a lot of attention when he received a shot to the groin by one of his youth football players. The advertisements increasingly became edgier as McFadden sharpened his attacks on Franken for what became his key campaign refrain: that he voted with President Barack Obama 97 percent of the time.
In their final debate, the candidates found themselves agreeing on a number of issues, from Obama’s handling of controlled airstrikes against Islamic State militants to maintaining free and open access to the Internet. In a move to gain some bipartisan appeal, McFadden has repeatedly touted Minnesota’s senior senator, Democrat Amy Klobuchar, as being a stateswoman. Meanwhile, Franken has offered his work with more than a dozen Republican Senators as an example of his bipartisanship in Washington.
Despite the strange impasse in which the candidates grudgingly agreed with one another, fighting continued when the McFadden campaign on Monday filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission, saying there was coordination between Franken’s campaign and the Independence USA Political Action Committee, saying there was ads by each contain the same footage and messaging. The Franken campaign called the complaint “desperate.”
“This is a silly complaint by a desperate campaign trying to change the dynamic of a race,” said Marc Elias, the campaign’s lawyer.
Photo: Hillary Clinton stumps for U.S. Sen. Al Franken and Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton, middle, at the Leonard Center Field House at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minn., on Thursday, Oct. 23, 2014. (Richard Tsong-Taatarii/Minneapolis Star Tribune/MCT)