- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 1, 2014

A month before election day, Sen. Al Franken, Minnesota Democrat, defended his record during a debate with Republican Mike McFadden on Wednesday morning and pushed back against accusations he’s “the most partisan senator” in Washington.

The two men also clashed on U.S. foreign policy, Obamacare, economic growth and a host of other issues during a debate in Duluth, the first in a series of three debates between now and the Nov. 4 election. Recent polling shows Mr. Franken, a first-term senator and former “Saturday Night Live” writer, with a lead of about 9 percentage points.

But Mr. McFadden, a businessman, came out swinging Wednesday in an attempt to begin closing that gap during the home stretch of the campaign. He charged Mr. Franken lacks the independent streak that the people of Minnesota want in their U.S. senator.

“He is the most partisan senator in the Democratic party. … He is No. 1 in the Democratic party. He is in a universe of one. He is part of problem, not part of the solution,” Mr. McFadden said, citing congressional voting statistics showing Mr. Franken has voted in line with President Obama’s position 97 percent time, more than any other Democrat in the Senate.

Mr. Franken fired back that it’s easy to criticize his votes on foreign policy, health care, education and other issues when you’re watching from the sidelines. He also said some of his votes have been characterized out of context, such as the claim he voted in favor of raising taxes when he merely wanted to end taxpayer subsidies to oil-and-gas companies.

“It’s easy to score political points from the bleachers,” the senator said. “This is a serious job. You’ve got to make real choices in real time.”

Nor surprisingly, the two men disagreed on whether Obamacare should be repealed. Mr. McFadden said the law, Mr. Obama’s signature domestic achievement, should be scrapped.

Mr. Franken, like other Democrats, said such a move would undo years of progress by once again allowing, for example, insurance companies to deny coverage because of preexisting conditions.

But the candidates had perhaps their sharpest exchange on foreign policy matters, with Mr. McFadden linking Mr. Franken to the White House and its “complete lack of foreign policy vision.”

Mr. McFadden said he supports Mr. Obama’s decision to bomb Islamic State fighters in Iraq and Syria and arm moderate Syrian rebels but believes those decisions should have been made long ago.

“I can’t tell you how frustrated I am by the complete lack of a foreign policy vision from this president and Al Franken,” he said. “The world is a more dangerous place today because we have not led.”

In response, Mr. Franken struck a hawkish note, echoing the president’s position that the Islamic State must be destroyed.

“They pose a threat not just to the region but to us. I voted to train and equip the moderate rebels in Syria. I support the bombing in Syria. [The Islamic State] doesn’t observe the border between Iraq and Syria. We shouldn’t either,” he said.

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