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Abeler v. McFadden: ‘I actually know something’

Rep. Senate primary canditate Jim Abeler, right pictured with former state Rep. Bob Westfall, hopes his campaign ambulance will help communicate his experience in health care. DL NEWSPAPERS/Nathan Bowe

Jim Abeler brought his campaign ambulance to Detroit Lakes Monday, emphasizing his expertise in health care and issues involving people with disabilities.

The 16-year veteran of the Minnesota Legislature hopes to be the giant-slayer on Tuesday, taking out endorsed candidate Mike McFadden in the Republican primary, then moving on to take on Democratic U.S. Sen. Al Franken in November.

He’s trying to make up in hard work and shoe leather what he lacks in organizational support from the Republican Party and in campaign funding, an area where he badly trails McFadden, a wealthy businessman.

Abeler has so far raised nearly $147,000 and spent just over $131,000. His cash on hand was $15,669 as of June 30, the last report available, according to Center for Responsive Politics.

McFadden has raised over $3.4 million, spent about $2.8 million and had about $1.4 million cash on hand as of July 23.

Franken has raised $24.6 million and spent about $21 million. His cash on hand was about $5 million on June 30.

Abeler, a bright, articulate man with a quick grin and a sure grasp of the issues, says primary voters need to reject McFadden for his complete lack of political experience.

“I actually know something, I can start right away,” he said of the choice between himself and McFadden.

“It’s a choice between who has the most experience and who has the most money,” he added.  “Money doesn’t buy experience, but experience can save the country a whole lot of money.”

The nation desperately needs experienced leadership, he said.

The voters elected an inexperienced candidate last time in Al Franken, and that didn’t turn out well, he said.

“Franken and the president have both led from the rear,” he said. “I take risks. I bring people together. I lead on the hard issues.”

Abeler is recognized in the Legislature as an expert in healthcare issues.

“It’s probably one of the most difficult areas to work in, next to Mideast policy,” he joked.

But health and human services is “the area most out of control in the budget,” he said. “Republicans have traditionally been bad at managing that, they come off as harsh, but my work comes off as humanizing,” while still bringing sound fiscal management to the process.

“Reform is very complicated and people can come to harm if you aren’t careful,” Abeler said. “You have to balance it, carefully reform it and protect those with essential needs.”

Minnesotans are sick of gridlock in Washington, he said. That has come out loud and clear in the 600-some stops he has made during the campaign.

“I know how to work with people and get things done, which is the main thing I’ve heard (on the campaign trail),” he said. “People are tired of the gridlock and have lost confidence in the federal government. They just endure it. I encourage them to not give up on America.”

Each level of government is supposed to represent the people. “The Senate in particular has been an aristocracy representing the rich,” he said.

Abeler, a chiropractor for 35 years, says he has always been a Main Street guy. “In 16 years in the Legislature I learned a lot about the working man and small business, and small business employees, and farmers and educators,” he said.

“I’ve been very successful finding solutions to a lot of very complicated problems, and I’ve developed a reputation for working with people and getting things done – a skill that doesn’t come overnight, it has to be learned.”

The United State Senate is made up of 100 people, many with strong opinions and big egos, and “you have to persuade them to accept your idea,” Abeler said. “It’s a place that can lend itself more to politics than policies, and you have to be especially good to move it back to policy – that’s been my focus for 16 years.”

Abeler has been endorsed by former Gov. Al Quie and former U.S. Sen. David Durenberger, also a renowned healthcare expert.

Former state Rep. Bob Westfall of Rothsay also supports Abeler, and accompanied him to Detroit Lakes Monday.

“I believe he’s the man,” Westfall said. “He has the experience, and the proof of good experience is good work in the State Legislature. There’s no reason he can’t take this to Washington. Between him and Torrey Westrom (who is running against Collin Peterson for U.S. House) there would be quite an impact on the national scene.”