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Franken-McFadden debate: Mines, terrorism, health care

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Democratic incumbent Sen. Al Franken and Republican challenger Mike McFadden debated for the first time in the general election campaign Wednesday morning.

Throughout the debate, McFadden mentioned Franken voted with President Barack Obama 97 percent of the time, which was more than any other Democrat in the Senate, noting he's the most partisan DFL Senator.

But Franken defended his voting record, saying it's easy to criticize when watching from the sidelines.

Several topics were discussed in the debate, including: terrorism, the economy, health care and mining – a hot button issue for the debate's Duluth location. (If you missed it, listen to it here.)

Here's a look at what the candidates had to say:

PolyMet mine

Franken said Minnesotans want PolyMet mining jobs, but they also want to make sure water isn't contaminated saying, regulators have been tough, but fair, adding, "This is too important not to get this right."

McFadden, who has turned to mining frequently during his campaign, said he also supports mining and wants to get the mines open, saying it is "crazy" it has taken nine-plus years to permit PolyMet and open the mines.

Affordable Care Act

McFadden said the nation has a health care issue, but says Obamacare is a "train wreck" that was built on lies. He says he wants to solve health care problems on a state level, not federal.

In his rebuttal, Franken said MnSure is a state system. Franken admitted to problems with the Affordable Care Act, but notes Minnesota's MnSure has significantly reduced the number of uninsured people in the state.


Franken called the economy "rigged," saying the focus needs to be on the middle class and the skills gap. Adding that he's introduced a bill to let people refinance their student loans, which in turn, will allow them to buy a home. He also said he supports raising the minimum wage and equal pay for women for equal work.

McFadden called the economy stagnant, saying the recovery from the recession is the slowest ever, noting debt has gone up. He again talked about opening the copper mines and building pipelines. McFadden also said he wants to radically change the education system in inner cities, calling the achievement gap a "moral outrage."

 Terrorist threat

McFadden said he supports airstrikes to stop the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (often referred to as ISIL, the Islamic State or ISIS), adding he was happy to see Franken voted in favor of it, but said he's frustrated with the lack of foreign policy vision from Franken.

However, McFadden criticized Franken for not doing something earlier to stop terrorist recruiting in Minnesota – terrorist groups like ISIS and al-Shabab have recruited dozens of fighters from Minnesota, according to reports. In the last few weeks, several men with Minnesota ties have died fighting for ISIS, which led the FBI to launch a pilot program in the Twin Cities to combat terror recruiting in the U.S. Boston and Los Angeles are also part of the program.

Franken said he supports bombing ISIS and voted to arm Syrian rebels, noting he has worked with the community and law enforcement to get more resources to combat recruitment efforts in Minnesota.

Franken also criticized McFadden, saying making the decision to arm Syrian rebels was a tough call, noting "it's easy to score political points from the bleachers." Last year, McFadden refused to comment on military action against Syria, reports say.

This was just the first debate of the day. Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton debated his challengers, Republican Jeff Johnson and Independence Party candidate Hannah Nicollet, in Rochester Wednesday evening. Here's a wrap-up of that debate.

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