Iron Range union leaders, mayors and state politicians gathered en-masse in Virginia Friday to criticize a U.S. Senate candidate’s statement of support of Chinese steel.

Republican-endorsed U.S. Senate candidate Mike McFadden last week said he would support the use of Chinese steel in building the Keystone XL pipeline, provided “it is not being subsidized by the Chinese government,” he said. His campaign has defended the candidate against the criticism.

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McFadden’s political faux pas, uttered at the Minnesota Farmfest, came after incumbent Sen. Al Franken said he supported the use of American-made steel. Iron Range Democrats have seized upon the statement as an affront to the mining way of life on the range.

“It’s really disappointing what McFadden had to say,” said State Rep. Jason Metsa (DFL-Virginia), who was at the rally that featured more than a dozen Iron Range leaders. “We wanted to get together and show a response.”

Steelworkers Local 1938 President Jon Malek agreed.

“That’s what we do,” said Malek. “We’re organized and we’re people who, when we need to get something together, can count on each other in a short amount of time.”

McFadden was not available to speak about the public rally at the Mineview in the Sky overlook off Highway 53, said his spokesman, Tom Erickson.

“Mike would love to see it built with U.S. steel; he also wants to see it built,” said Erickson, before lambasting the gathering as “the definition of hypocrisy,” and a “smokescreen” designed cover up Franken’s lack of an endorsement for proposed copper-nickel projects like the PolyMet mine near Hoyt Lakes.

“Sen. Franken is the only person in this race who voted for a loophole allowing the Keystone XL pipeline to be built with foreign steel (in 2012),” Erickson said.

McFadden has stressed the need to strengthen the economy as one of the key issues of his campaign. He has said America is experiencing “the slowest post-recession recovery in U.S. history as the result of failed policy,” and needs leaders who are “focused on growing the economy.”

Metsa refused to say Friday’s gathering was a partisan event.

“I don’t know all the personal political views, but if seven out of 10 people on the Iron Range are Democrats, then there were a few Republicans with us,” Metsa said. “The message was, ‘We want support for American steel in building American infrastructure.’”

Metsa and Malek both said McFadden’s comments particularly bristled in the wake of June’s rally of 2,000 steelworkers protesting the dumping of subsidized Chinese steel onto the U.S. market by way of South Korea.

“There was a real threat of job loss,” Metsa said. “Plants close down. We’re proud of the work we do up here. We produce more tonnage per man-hour than anywhere else in the world.”