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GOP candidates mingle at Beltrami Republicans banquet

BEMIDJI — Julianne Ortman and Jim Abeler, GOP candidates aiming to grab Al Franken’s U. S. Senate seat were both wooing supporters Saturday night at the Beltrami County Republicans’ annual banquet.

Ortman was accompanied by former Michelle Bachmann chief of staff Andy Parrish, who confirmed he is now Ortman’s campaign manager. As Minnesota Public Radio reported in April, Parrish described in a legal affidavit how Bachmann approved payments her campaign gave to Iowa State Sen. Kent Sorenson, who was later made the subject of an ethics probe. Parrish was fired by Bachmann, whose attorney denied any wrongdoing on her part.

At Saturday’s event, however, Ortman said Parrish’s involvement in the Bachmann case would not detract from her own campaign.

"People vote for the candidate, they don’t vote for the campaign manager," she said. "But he is a great one and we’re happy to have him."

Ortman said her campaign is about bringing her experience working as a state senator from Minnesota to Washington. She said her strength is the economy-related lessons she learned during her time as a state senator.

"I was the chair of our senate Tax Committee; we worked very hard to build a strong consensus and balance our budget," she said. "If there’s a very important issue in Washington that we are all concerned about, it’s the economy and our budget."

Ortman’s opponent in the primary, former state representative Abeler, said his main area of concern is managing federal assistance programs such as Social Security and Medicare, which he says are unsustainable in their current form.

"My strength is in health care and human services and entitlements," he said. "I’m also a humanitarian, so we have to find a way to manage the cost of those and take care of the people who really need those services the most. We’ve found ourselves as a government making promises we can’t keep with money we don’t have. That’s not fair to the people who need the services, and so when it comes to disability services or seniors or nursing homes, we have to look after those kinds of needs (in) a very careful way."

State Sen. Mary Kiffmeyer, who headlined the event, weighed in on the recent controversy over the use of Bemidji’s Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox statues in the state’s MNsure publicity campaign. MNsure is the state’s health exchange program being implemented as part of the new federal health care law also known as Obamacare.

"Babe is kind of a non-partisan icon, and so to drag Babe and Paul Bunyan into a highly controversial issue is not the smartest thing to do," she said. "I think now you have… a great Minnesota icon, now it’s been turned into this controversial tool."

Several of the GOP candidates for governor were also present, including educator Rob Farnsworth, State Sen. Dave Thompson and Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson.

Randy Gilbert, candidate for state auditor, was also in attendance.