ST. PAUL, Minn. — Spend time with Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) on the campaign trail and his reelection strategy becomes clear: Lay low and run out the clock. Even during August recess, Franken barely even acknowledges he’s facing a potentially competitive campaign from businessman Mike McFadden (R). He’d much rather talk about the state fair (which just opened Thursday) than the president’s record on the economy, foreign policy, or health care. — Interestingly, Franken’s strategy runs against the game plan employed by other Democratic senators outside the first tier of battleground states. Sens. Mark Warner (D-VA) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), for instance, have maintained active campaign schedules and aren’t press-averse. The emerging Democratic strategy of early attacks against newly-minted opponents hasn’t happened here. It’s not just candidates being “Minnesota nice;” Franken’s team doesn’t want a lengthy campaign that could expose his vulnerabilities. — Minnesota isn’t a top GOP opportunity, but it heads the list of “sleeper” races — a handful of contests that could break late if the political environment is as toxic for Democrats as many statewide and national polls suggest. After only minimal attacks this year, Franken’s running just below 50 percent in GOP internal polling. An April Suffolk University poll (the most recent public live-caller survey) showed him only tallying 44 percent against McFadden, who wasn’t even the nominee at the time. — Republican are hardly bullish about their chances. They think Franken and Gov. Mark Dayton (D) are vulnerable, but they’re not optimistic about getting reinforcements from Washington, given the bevy of other opportunities Republicans have. The state GOP is in debt, understaffed, and doesn’t even have a full-time tracker devoted to Franken. Meanwhile, the Minnesota DFL boasts one of the strongest state field operations in the country. McFadden is a solid but unpolished first-time candidate, and his business background could make him a tough sell in the bellwether, working-class Iron Range region. The two things GOPers have going for them is the political environment and Franken himself. Most Democratic senators up in 2014 can lean on personal goodwill in their home states. But Franken ended his difficult 2008 campaign with weak approval ratings and has improved his standing mostly by avoiding the press. If Republicans start engaging early, this race could get interesting. But Franken’s all-politics-is-local campaign strategy is working so far, without much GOP pushback, meaning he may get the last laugh in November.— Josh Kraushaar
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