MINNEAPOLIS (AP) —  Sen. Al Franken’s re-election was decided in a matter of minutes, not months.

Franken handily beat GOP challenger Mike McFadden on Tuesday, a sharp contrast to the recount that delayed his debut in the U.S. Senate by nine months. Franken topped incumbent Sen. Norm Coleman in 2008 by a mere 312 votes; on Tuesday, he was hammering McFadden by some 200,000 votes with most of the vote counted.

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“Thank you for taking a chance on me six years ago,” Franken told supporters in Minneapolis after McFadden called him to concede. “And thank you for giving me the chance to keep working for you in Washington.”

The freshman Democrat was the favorite throughout the race against McFadden, who was running his first campaign. Unlike his colleagues in states such as Arkansas and North Carolina, Franken didn’t face a wave of outside money from Republican national groups, which skipped over Minnesota for better matchups elsewhere in their successful bid to retake the Senate.

The strength of Minnesota’s economy helped carry Franken, who found favor among those who thought the state’s economy was good, voters of all ages and those who identified as moderate or liberal, according to preliminary results of an exit poll conducted for The Associated Press and television networks.

Franken also did well in the Twin Cities, and the southern and northern parts of the state.

McFadden, an investment banker, drew support from conservatives, those who strongly disapproved of President Barack Obama’s actions in office and those who said the country is on the wrong track. He also fared well in east-central Minnesota, according to the poll of 1,395 voters in the state.

McFadden, 50, took a leave of absence from Lazard Middle Market to challenge Franken. He emerged from a brutally long Republican convention with a surprise endorsement, and cruised through an August primary.

McFadden attacked Franken as being too partisan and too closely tied to President Barack Obama, frequently citing a study that found Franken voted with the president 97 percent of the time. McFadden also used his own career in business to bolster an image of a “problem solver” who could sort out Congress.

Kevin Arendt, a 41-year-old attorney from St. Paul, didn’t buy McFadden’s pitch — and not just because he’s a loyal Democratic voter.

“The idea that Mike McFadden or any other person is going to come in and be able to fix the dysfunction in Congress? I think it’s laughable,” Arendt said, adding he didn’t believe Franken could do it either.

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Despite his loss — even as Republicans across the nation won — McFadden insisted Minnesota’s Republican Party had made great strides since a bruising year in 2012.

“I am so proud of my team, our effort and our attitude. We ran the type of race that I wanted to run,” McFadden said.

Franken, 63, took the same low-key approach to his campaign as he has his five years in the Senate, highlighting his work on policy issues like the passage of a five-year farm bill and the need to attack runaway college debt. He also continually played up his work across the aisle, name-dropping Republican senators.

Franken’s emphasis on student loan debt resonated with University of Minnesota senior Annie Crepeau and her friends, she said. Franken’s campaign barraged college students with ads on Internet radio sites, playing up his bill to allow students to refinance their loan debt.

“I heard it about a thousand, million times,” she said. “It was all over Facebook too. That helped.”

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