ST. PAUL, Minnesota — The race between Sen. Al Franken and Republican challenger Mike McFadden is moving past introductions and into attacks.
McFadden took to foreign policy this week in his ongoing effort to tie Franken to an unpopular president. McFadden and fellow Republicans repeatedly criticized President Barack Obama and the freshman Democratic senator for what they deemed to be a weak, rudderless approach in the Middle East that they say has allowed Islamic State extremists to gain a foothold.
Franken's campaign strayed from its usual course of highlighting his time in the Senate — and ignoring McFadden — striking out Friday with a new ad suggesting his Republican opponent's former employer moved offshore to pay lower taxes. McFadden's campaign stressed Lazard Middle Market, where he had served as co-CEO, is a U.S.-based subsidiary of a parent company incorporated in Bermuda.
The issues triggered bickering between campaigns that, until recently, had barely engaged.
McFadden drew an attack on Franken from the president's comment that "we don't have a strategy yet" for handling the Islamic State extremists who this week beheaded a second American journalist.
"Sen. Franken has supported President Obama and all his foreign policy blunders every step of the way," McFadden said after meeting with Wisconsin Republican Sen. Ron Johnson earlier this week. "Sen. Franken has kept his head down, he's been invisible and the world has become a more dangerous place."
McFadden had not addressed the Islamic State extremists until Tuesday, and Franken's campaign dryly applauded McFadden for his "newfound concern with terrorism," noting McFadden had previously evaded answering questions about unrest in Syria.
"Senator Franken has been working on these issues since his first FBI briefing on terrorist recruitment in our communities soon after joining the Senate in 2009," campaign spokeswoman Alexandra Fetissoff said in a statement.
Franken himself wrote a letter to the Department of Justice on Tuesday, criticizing the Obama administration's lack of a clear strategy and calling for a renewed focus on terrorism recruiting in the U.S., particularly in Minnesota, where recruitment has been an issue for years.
The candidates share a similar preferred approach to combat the Islamic State group. Both said they wouldn't support a boots-on-the-ground invasion but would consider expanding targeted bombing in Iraq and into Syria.
Pete Hegseth, the state GOP's finance chair, said Franken's problem is not about tactics, but tone.
"He hasn't been willing to stand up and full-throatedly say, 'Mr. President, where is your strategy?'" Hegseth said during a Friday news conference.
Hegseth insisted his issue with Franken's handling of national security was above politics, but other Republicans who joined Hegeseth made it clear the November election was on their minds.
"When it comes to foreign policy, clearly it's time for a change in November," said Rep. Bob Dettmer, R-Forest Lake.