Dayton has been expected to appoint Lt. Gov. Tina Smith, his former chief of staff, to the seat. She’d have the option of running next fall to fill out the rest of Franken’s term, which is up in 2021.
In a speech on the Senate floor last Thursday, Franken announced he’d be stepping down but did not say when. He faced pressure from the majority of the Senate Democratic Conference to step aside after multiple allegations of inappropriately touching women.
Dayton has been under pressure to appoint a woman to the seat, and in speaking about the prospective appointment in recent days, he’s used feminine pronouns.
One source in the state said Smith had been making calls on Tuesday, letting elected officials know she’s the pick and she’ll seek election in 2018.
Smith’s name originally emerged as a likely placeholder, but recent reports suggest she may now be interested in running for the job in 2018. The special election would be held concurrently with the November midterms, when Democratic-Farmer-Labor Sen. Amy Klobuchar is up for re-election.
Smith explored a 2018 gubernatorial bid to succeed Dayton, who’s term-limited, but never went through with a campaign. She’s been an active second-in-command, and her name appears on the governor’s letterhead — including on the official advisory about his Wednesday announcement.
Smith worked as an aide to the former Minneapolis mayor and ran former Vice President Walter Mondale’s 2002 Senate campaign. She’s also worked for General Mills and served as the vice president for external affairs for Planned Parenthood of Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota.
Her appointment could present another wrinkle for the DFL Party at the state level: the new lieutenant governor would be a Republican. If Smith were to leave her current job, the GOP president of the state Senate would become the lieutenant governor and next in line to Dayton.
But that ascendancy would also create another vacancy in the state Senate and give the DFL a chance to flip control of the chamber, which Republicans control by one vote. There is already expected to be a special election in a seat held by a DFL senator who’s stepping down over sexual harassment allegations. Winning both those special elections would give the DFL control of the state Senate.
Besides Smith, other potential appointees for the U.S. Senate seat include Attorney General Lori Swanson, Franken’s state director Alana Petersen and state Auditor Rebecca Otto, who’s running for governor. Except for 5th District Rep. Keith Ellison, all DFL members of Congress have ruled out interest in the appointment.
Republicans are waiting to see whom Dayton appoints before deciding to go after the seat in 2018. All eyes are on former GOP Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who has said he’s considering the race. He was the last Republican to win a statewide election. Former Sen. Norm Coleman ruled out a bid last week and has said he’ll be meeting with Pawlenty to talk about Senate service.
GOP freshman Rep. Jason Lewis, who was elected to the 2nd District last fall, could take a look at the race depending on who’s appointed. Five-term GOP Rep. Erik Paulsen told Roll Call last week he would not be interested in running in a special election, citing his work on the Ways and Means Committee.
Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the race Likely Democratic.