MARSHALL - It's already been a long road for Jim Abeler. The U.S. Senate candidate said he's made about 170 campaign stops around the state since June. But as Abeler met with area residents in Marshall on Wednesday afternoon, he emphasized that it was all about solving the nation's problems - not rhetoric.
Abeler, R-Anoka, is a Minnesota state representative, and one of six Republican candidates running for U.S. Senate against Al Franken.
Abeler said he sees the race to get the GOP endorsement as being more about experience and ideas than visibility.
"None of us are very widely known," he said of the six candidates running. Instead of relying on a high profile, Abeler said he's focusing on having substance to offer voters.
Abeler has been a state representative for 15 years and served as chairman of the state health and human services finance committee in 2011. Those experiences will be helpful when it comes to dealing with issues like the federal deficit and health care reform, he said.
"That's something that nobody else has to offer," he said.
Abeler said the $17 trillion national deficit and massive debt to foreign countries, are issues that national legislators will need to contend with, Abeler said.
"If we don't get that under control, it will consume us," he said.
Abeler said his past legislative experiences would help in trying to find a solution. When Minnesota was faced with a $6 billion state deficit in 2011, Abeler led the committee that found a way to cut $3.8 billion in human services spending through permanent reductions. Cuts were made carefully to avoid harming the people who receive state services, he said. As a measure of the bill's success, he noted that Gov. Mark Dayton has kept the reductions in place.
Abeler said his experiences with health and human services as a lawmaker, and as a chiropractor with a family practice, also give him perspective to respond to the Affordable Care Act.
"I would've built it differently," Abeler said of the act. The ACA's approach to health insurance, he said, "Is all built on access. It did very little for cost and quality."
However, he said it doesn't seem likely that the ACA is going away any time soon.
"The question is, how do you manage it, and make it work?'" he said.
Abeler wants to help answer that question. He said his plan would be to push national policies and healthcare spending closer to what is being done in Minnesota. Compared to some other states, Minnesota has done a better job of coordinating care services and controlling costs, he said.
Abeler emphasized that he was willing to take advice and work together with other legislators. Inflexible rhetoric hasn't gotten Congress anywhere in the past few years, and voters know it, he said.
"People have lost confidence in the government," Abeler said. At more than 100 campaign stops around Minnesota, he said, "The universal message I've gotten is, 'Stop fighting and start solving problems.'"