US Senator Al Franken, D-MN, questions US Supreme Court Nominee Sonia Sotomayor on July 16, 2009 during the fourth day of confirmation hearings before the Senate Judiiciary Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. AFP PHOTO / Karen BLEIER (Photo credit should read KAREN BLEIER/AFP/Getty Images) Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) in July 2009. (Karen Bleier/Agence France Presse via Getty Images)

The 2014 Senate map is expanding to include Michigan, Virginia and Colorado. As Republicans’ hopes rise, it becomes easier to get quality candidates and find donors; that, in turn, spreads the map even wider. So what about Minnesota?

Yes, it’s a blue state, but Sen. Al Franken, a Democrat, barely scraped by in 2008, running about 11 points behind President Obama, who won’t be on the ballot this time. Franken has done little of note since arriving, perhaps lowering his profile excessively to escape the comedian identity. He hasn’t introduced anything that’s passed, but he’s been an enthusiastic rubber stamp for President Obama. Republicans are eager to point out that he stuck by the president 100 percent of the time in 2013. Even on the medical device tax — problematic for hundreds of Minnesota small businesses and entrepreneurs — Franken voted to keep Obamacare pristine.

His approval rating is high, but he is an exceptionally polarizing figure. The Star Tribune reports, “The 55 percent approval rating for the satirist-turned-senator matches a high-water mark reached last June, but the latest results also show a growing dissatisfaction with his job performance. Franken’s job disapproval rating has climbed to 34 percent, up from 29 percent last June.” Obama is faring worse with a 43-50 approval/disapproval rating.

The good news is that Republicans have a candidate who can position himself as a Washington outsider, Mike McFadden; the bad news is that he is unknown. The Post reported last year, “McFadden, 48, is the co-CEO of Lazard Middle Market, a financial services firm, and is believed to have the funds to partially self-fund his campaign.” Since then, he’s proven to be a remarkably adept campaigner, raising the comparison to Wisconsin businessman Ron Johnson, who ousted incumbent Democrat Russ Feingold in the wake of Obamacare’s passage.

The Hill reported in January: “The Republican front-runner to face Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) has kept up his strong fundraising pace, pulling in $780,000 in the last three months of 2013. Businessman Mike McFadden (R) has $1.7 million in the bank for his race against Franken, having raised $2.2 million since he entered the race in late May. McFadden is the favorite of establishment Republicans, who believe the freshman senator could be vulnerable, if 2014 turns into a wave year for Republicans.”

McFadden’s campaign adviser, Todd Harris, insists that McFadden is a real threat, telling Right Turn that Franken’s support is “wide, but very very thin.” McFadden has begun testing that proposition with a pro-jobs, education reform and anti-Obamacare message. In his “Minute with Mike” video series, he’s extolling “earned success” (well before the Obama administration declared losing the equivalent of  2.5 million jobs) and limited but effective government. His theme and low-key demeanor are vaguely reminiscent of the man Al Franken beat, Sen. Norm Coleman, a Republican.

This is not a race that would be remotely competitive in any other year. But with Franken tied at the hip to the president — and the president and his signature achievement in a downward spiral — it’s not impossible to see an upset here. As in Virginia, New Hampshire, Michigan, Iowa, Colorado and Oregon, a solid GOP candidate may be able to ride an anti-Obama tide into the Senate. (Imagine what could happen if third-party groups such as the Senate Conservatives Fund stopped spending wildly on unelectable flakes challenging mainstream GOP incumbents and instead aimed fire at Democratic incumbents in potential swing states.)

Republican operatives would never say it, but even losing with better, more likable candidates in these states is a help to the GOP. A viable senatorial candidate won’t weigh down House and local races and will avoid a repeat of the Todd Akin catastrophe, in which a single candidate was used to tar the entire party. If nothing else, Republicans who cringed at certain Senate nominees in 2010 and 2012 are much more likely to get engaged, turn out and stay involved through the 2016 race with impressive candidates. That’s the hope, at any rate.

As for McFadden, the race has hardly begun. But for him and other long shots, he has a juicy target to aim for.