McFadden steps from business to politics in U.S. Senate race

by T.W. Budig
ECM Capitol Reporter


His two Republican rivals have a total of 25 years of legislative experience, but U.S. Senate candidate Mike McFadden, who has none, said he doesn’t feel outshined.

Republican U.S. Senate candidate Mike McFadden. (Photo submitted by campaign)
Republican U.S. Senate candidate Mike McFadden. (Photo submitted by campaign)

“I think it’s very much a positive to be an outsider,” said McFadden, 48, of Sunfish Lake.

To an extent, McFadden is. Sen. Julianne Ortman, of Chanhassen, and Rep. Jim Abeler, of Anoka are two well-known Republicans who also want to challenge Democratic U.S. Sen. Al Franken in 2014.

But McFadden was recently endorsed by former Republican U.S. Sens. Rod Grams and Norm Coleman.

“This isn’t against them (Ortman and Abeler) in any way,” Grams said, adding that he likes McFadden’s take on the issues. McFadden is anti-abortion and pro-guns, Grams said.

McFadden and his partners built a business while Abeler and Ortman were serving in the Legislature.

Although Abeler and Ortman have been high-profile legislators, McFadden is lesser known to the general public. In a intra-party race that could be settled by a primary, McFadden has shown an ability to secure campaign dollars.

While saying he’s a proud Republican, he’s a Minnesotan first, McFadden said. He said he doesn’t view the Republican Party as without blemish. All for repealing the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, McFadden insists Republicans offer a Plan B.

“I am frustrated at my party, the Republicans, in that we have not provided solutions, ideas, to help address health care issues in this country,” McFadden said.

Asked whether the pitch for repeal of Obamacare wasn’t more of a political exercise than policy, McFadden said the president has reopened debate by delaying implementation of the Affordable Care Act.

“Give me a chance,” McFadden, grinning, said of helping to craft a substitute health care approach. “As a U.S. senator I’d like to scream what we’re doing here so that other states can adopt (it) if they wish,” he said of innovation in Minnesota.


The oldest of five children, McFadden grew up in Omaha, Neb. He attended the University of St. Thomas, majoring in economics and playing football. His academic career led him to the London School of Economics and law school at Georgetown University.

“I walked out of school with a lot of debt. But it was worth every penny,” McFadden said.

On a blind date in St. Paul, McFadden met his wife, Mary Kate, from Hopkins. The couple married and had five sons and one daughter.

For a time the McFaddens lived in New York City, returning to Minnesota in 1993. McFadden said the family loves lakes and water, and growing up in Nebraska, there was an abundance of neither.

McFadden and partners built a firm during the past 20 years specializing in the sale of businesses. Though initially independent, in 2007 the firm was acquired by a much larger company, and now is a wholly owned subsidiary of Lazard, McFadden explained. Lazard, which operates in 40 cities and across 26 countries, has about 2,500 employees, according to a company fact sheet.

McFadden’s old firm is now called Lazard Middle Market.

“Those are the businesses on Main Street,” McFadden said of their clientele.

It’s the smaller companies, the start-ups, that are really damaged by overbearing regulation and taxation, McFadden argues. Big companies, though not liking these things, withstand them. It’s the guy with the idea working in garage that can’t, he said.

From business to politics

McFadden before the State Capitol Press Room "blue wall" announcing his candidacy earlier this year. (Photo by T.W. Budig)
McFadden before the State Capitol Press Room “blue wall” announcing his candidacy earlier this year. (Photo by T.W. Budig)

McFadden views the business world as solid preparation for governance. Business taught him to lead, motivate and accomplish, he said.

“I know how to measure things and hold people accountable — including myself,” he said.

In business deals there’s often two or three knotty problems. You start with commonalities and go from there, he said.

“I view politics as the art of the possible,” McFadden said.

One of McFadden’s main themes is education. There’s enough money in education, he said. It’s more a question of proper allocation. He speaks of more charter schools and greater transparency for schools. McFadden serves as treasurer on the board of directors for Cristo Rey Jesuit High School in Minneapolis.

“My laser-like focus is going to be to improve education, great jobs by getting this stagnant economy moving and addressing health care,” he said.

While there are murmurs in Washington of a government shutdown resulting from the budget standoff between Republicans and Democrats, McFadden believes disagreements can be addressed without locking the doors of government.

“I think it’s quite draconian when you shut the government down,” McFadden said.

He downplays social issues, saying he hears more Minnesotans talk about jobs and the economy. Asked about same-sex marriage, McFadden said he “absolutely” believes same-gender marriage is a state issue, not federal. He talks of states needing to protect religious freedom.

“I think the decision (on same-sex marriage) was made. And I think it’s time to move on,” McFadden said.

DFL State Party Chairman Ken Martin depicts McFadden as talking to failed establishment types or people with checkbooks instead of Minnesotans.

“What did McFadden tell Coleman and Grams to get their endorsement that he can’t or won’t tell the people of Minnesota?” Martin asked in a statement.

But McFadden repeats a commonly heard Republican portrayal of Franken, that of a keep-your-head-down, mouth-closed U.S. senator out of character with a state that has sent fiery spirits to Washington.

“As Minnesotans we have very high expectations. And I don’t think Al Franken has met those,” McFadden said.

McFadden seeks the Republican U.S. Senate endorsement, but will not say whether he’ll abide by it.


Tim Budig can be reached at [email protected].

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