Star Tribune ruffles feathers by not endorsing Mike McFadden in primary election

This morning, the Star Tribune editorial board endorsed dark horse candidate Jim Abeler in the GOP U.S. Senate primary that will take place August 12.

The endorsement was somewhat surprising, as Mike McFadden has been the overwhelming favorite to emerge from the primary and move on to challenge Al Franken since he received the MNGOP endorsement a couple months ago. But the Strib editorial board "urge[s] voters to look beyond the money race and folksy TV commercials and consider Abeler's admirable record of fiscally conservative and independent-minded service to Minnesota."

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Abeler, a veteran state representative serving a district that includes portions of Anoka County, receives praise from the Strib for being one of six Republicans to override then-Gov. Tim Pawlenty's veto of a gas tax increase in 2008, and for leading a successful effort to cut state health care costs back in 2011.

While noting McFadden and Abeler are more similar than they are different, the Strib concludes, "Given the complexities of health care and entitlement reform -- and the need for more bipartisan collaboration in Washington -- Abeler is the better choice for Republican primary voters."

The Strib's endorsement of the underdog was quickly seized upon by the DFL, who have been taking regular shots at McFadden all year long in the expectation he'll ultimately be the Republican who challenges Franken. The party distributed a press release entitled, "Monday Morning Blues for McFadden." In fact, they tried to turn it into a hashtag:
-- Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) August 4, 2014 As McFadden spokesman Tom Erickson later pointed out, the Strib's endorsement wasn't the only significant one announced today: Other Republicans, meanwhile, expressed skepticism about the Strib's motivations: But it should be noted the paper is now owned by Republican Glen Taylor, who didn't try to hide the fact he plans to move the Strib to the right during an interview he did right after the purchase was announced this spring.

We contacted Erickson to get an official response to the Strib's endorsement. Here's what he said:
Since day one we have been focused on holding Al Franken accountable for voting with President Obama 97% of the time. Our focus on the general election is what helped Mike secure key endorsements from the Republican Party of Minnesota and the US Chamber of Commerce.
In other words, McFadden's camp believes it has bigger fish to fry than Jim Abeler. And while Erickson and company are probably right to believe McFadden has little to worry about next Tuesday, the Strib's endorsement does at least reflect the fact that McFadden's debut campaign has been a rocky one so far.

Send your story tips to the author, Aaron Rupar. Follow him on Twitter @atrupar.