McConnell and NRSC head fundraising for Franken opponent

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) are hosting a fundraiser for one of Sen. Al Franken's (D-Minn.) GOP opponents, according to a copy of the invitation obtained by The Hill.

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The Wednesday fundraiser is the latest sign the Republican establishment is coalescing behind businessman Mike McFadden (R) over his GOP opponents. The NRSC has not officially taken a position in the race, but has touted McFadden's campaign in the past.

The NRSC has been taking a much more active role in GOP primaries this year after a number of conservative challengers won Senate primaries in 2012 before costing the party seats with unforced errors in the general election. The organization has also been quietly backing Rep. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) and North Carolina House Speaker Thom Tillis (R) in their contested Senate primaries.

The fundraising event will be held at the NRSC's offices, hosted by former Minnesota Republican Sens. Norm Coleman and Rudy Boshwitz, with an entry fee of $250 per person and $1,000 per political action committee. NRSC Vice Chairman Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and former NRSC Chairman John Cornyn (R-Texas) are also co-hosts, as are a half-dozen other senators.

Republicans are hopeful that if McFadden can lock down the nomination he might be able to give Franken a tough race this fall. Polls indicate Franken is still in fairly good shape, but President Obama's sagging poll numbers could hurt him in the Democratic-leaning state.

But McFadden will still have to navigate the primary before he can turn his attention to the first-term senator.

A new poll for the conservative group Citizens United's Political Victory Fund first obtained by The Hill finds him tied for second place in the primary. Minnesota state Sen. Julianne Ortman (R) is at 16 percent in the poll, while McFadden and Minnesota state Rep. Jim Abeler (R) each pull 8 percent support.

More than half of likely primary voters are undecided in the poll, indicating plenty of uncertainty in the race.

McFadden has a big cash edge he's yet to leverage, with $1.7 million in the bank to Ortman's $120,000 and Abeler's $25,000, which could help him lock down the primary. But both of his opponents are running to his right, and McFadden is positioning himself as a centrist, which could make it harder to avoid a primary fight.

"McFadden has to do more than increase his name recognition to win: Among engaged voters who have heard of both Ortman and McFadden, Ortman leads 30 percent to 11 percent," GOP pollster Kellyanne Conway says in a memo accompanying the poll.

The live-caller poll of 400 likely GOP primary voters was conducted from Feb. 28 — March 1 by Conway's the polling company, inc., a respected firm, and has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.9 percent. Citizens United has not endorsed a candidate in the race, though they often back more conservative challengers in primaries, so the poll should be viewed with a bit of skepticism.

This post was updated at 10:10 p.m.