Julianne Ortman, a veteran state senator from the Twin Cities suburbs, on Saturday joined the growing group of Republicans who want to challenge incumbent Democratic Sen. Al Franken next year.
Ortman launched her campaign at a downtown park in Waconia, a town west of Minneapolis in the Carver County state Senate district that Ortman has represented for the last decade. In a short speech, Ortman criticized Washington as dysfunctional, and stressed her own middle class background and reputation at Minnesota's Capitol for tenacious advocacy of Republican principles.
"This is our time as voters in Minnesota to say that we expect more from Washington and our U.S. Senate," Ortman said. "We need more Minnesota in Washington, and less Washington in Minnesota."
Franken, elected to the Senate by a razor-thin margin in 2008, is running for a second term in 2014. Two other Republicans are also running to be party's candidate against him: Mike McFadden, a businessman from the St. Paul suburb of Sunfish Lake; and Jim Abeler, a state representative from Anoka.
In her speech, Ortman had many harsh words for Franken but also offered veiled criticism of McFadden, a wealthy businessman with no previous political experience.
"We don't need any more disinterested millionaires in the U.S. Senate," Ortman said. In a seeming reference to Franken's background as a "Saturday Night Live" writer and performer, she said: "We don't need more celebrity politicians who sit back and watch and provide comedic commentary. We need a strong, independent-minded woman."
Ortman, 50, lives in Chanhassen. She and husband Ray Ortman have four children. Ortman was elected to the state Senate in 2002. She has served as deputy leader of the Senate GOP and chaired the powerful Taxes Committee in 2011-12. She has a reputation as an aggressive debater and questioner, and has been a tough critic of Gov. Mark Dayton and of Democratic policies on a wide range of issues, from tax and spending priorities to gun control.
"If necessary, and regardless of party, I will stand up to the president of the United States," Ortman said.
Away from the Senate, Ortman since 2007 has worked as senior administrative manager in the office of Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek. She said Saturday she had taken an unpaid leave of absence from that job.
State Democratic Party Chairman Ken Martin criticized Ortman for her time in the Legislature, saying she instigated policies that favored large corporations over middle-class families.
In her Waconia speech, Ortman ripped Franken on a number of fronts, including his support for President Obama's health care overhaul, which she said should be repealed. She said the incumbent hasn't done enough to address spiraling national debt, or to rein in surveillance of U.S. citizens by the federal government.
In his bid, McFadden has already lined up support from prominent GOP figures including former U.S. senators Norm Coleman and Rod Grams. He raised more than $750,000 for his campaign in the month of June, an early sign that he hoped to compete with Franken's proven strength as a political fundraiser.
Both McFadden and Abeler have said they would pursue the official GOP endorsement for the Senate race, but both said they might still run in next August's primary without it.
Ortman was less definitive: "I intend to win the endorsement. I'm not going to run against the Republican Party of Minnesota," she said. But she declined to clarify whether that meant she'd end her campaign if she doesn't win the endorsement, which will be conferred at a party convention next summer.