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What Happens to Franken’s Seat If He Resigns?

Governor would appoint placeholder, followed by special election in November 2018

There could be two Senate elections next fall in Minnesota instead of just one. If Sen. Al Franken steps down, there would be a special election for the remainder of his term. Senior Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s seat is also up next year. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
There could be two Senate elections next fall in Minnesota instead of just one. If Sen. Al Franken steps down, there would be a special election for the remainder of his term. Senior Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s seat is also up next year. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Minnesota Sen. Al Franken isn’t up for re-election until 2020. But if he announces his resignation Thursday, the North Star State will be holding two Senate elections next fall.

Ahead of next November, though, not much would shift in the Senate. If Democratic-Farmer-Labor Gov. Mark Dayton appoints another Democrat immediately, the balance of power in the Senate would remain unchanged.

That appointed senator would serve until a November 2018 special election, to be held on the same day that DFL Sen. Amy Klobuchar faces the voters. The newly elected senator in Franken’s seat would then serve out the remainder of his term until January 2021.

Dayton’s interim appointee may not even run in that November special election. Anyone can throw their hat in the ring and seek their party’s endorsement or run in the August primaries.

The Minnesota DFL recently added an extra day to its June 2018 state convention just in case they had to deal with this scenario and needed extra time to discuss a second Senate endorsement.

There’s pressure on Dayton, himself a former senator, to appoint a woman to the seat. Potential names include Lt. Gov. Tina Smith, state Attorney General Lori Swanson, Franken’s state director Alana Petersen and state Auditor Rebecca Otto, who’s running for governor.

DFL Rep. Keith Ellison, who ran for chairman of the Democratic National Committee earlier this year and promised to step down from Congress if he won, is also seen as a potential candidate.

Democrats say ‘no’

But many members of the congressional delegation have taken themselves out of the running.

They include DFL Reps. Tim Walz and Collin C. Peterson. Walz is already running for governor and said he wasn’t interested. Peterson wants nothing to do with the Senate. “It ain’t gonna be me,” he said with a chuckle Wednesday.

Both members agreed it’s time for Franken to step aside.

“We want to move on,” Walz said, standing with Peterson outside the House chamber. “I mean we have 20 senators, Democrats, asking him to step down.”

So far, more than 30 Democratic senators, including Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, have called on Franken to step aside.

“That’s what’s going to happen,” Walz said.

“There’s no way he can be effective anymore,” Peterson added.

DFL Rep. Rick Nolan doesn’t want to call on Franken to resign before he makes his own announcement. “But the reasons for him to do that seem to be piling up,” he said Wednesday evening.

Nolan doesn’t want the appointment.

“I would like to see him [Dayton] appoint a woman, a younger woman, who could kinda be in the Mondale tradition and serve our state long and well,” Nolan said, referring to former Vice President Walter F. Mondale, who served 12 years in the Senate.

DFL Rep. Betty McCollum, who represents the 4th District, isn’t interested either.

“Congresswoman McCollum is flattered to be mentioned, but intends to remain in the House where she has considerable seniority and serves as Minnesota’s only appropriator,” communications director Evan Hollander said in a statement.

Republican interest

On the GOP side, Rep. Erik Paulsen of the 3rd District said he would not be interested in running in a special election.

Rep. Jason Lewis, a freshman from the 2nd District, hadn’t thought about the possibility when asked Wednesday afternoon, just after hearing the news that Franken would make a statement. Sources close to his campaign later said he could take a look at the race depending on who’s appointed.

Former Sen. Norm Coleman didn’t want to offer comment Wednesday night before it’s official that there’ll be a vacancy.

Former 8th District GOP nominee Stewart Mills sounds interested. He lost 2014 and 2016 races to Nolan.

Things could play out differently if Franken doesn’t resign until next year. If the vacancy happened less than 11 weeks before the August primaries, the governor’s appointee would serve until the next scheduled election, according to the Minnesota secretary of State’s office. That would be November 2019.

Franken won a second term in 2014 by 10 points. His first election against Coleman was much more contentious. The Minnesota Supreme Court declared Franken the winner in June 2009, seven months after the election following a recount and lengthy legal battle. Democrat Hillary Clinton won Minnesota by less than 2 points last fall.

Lindsey McPherson contributed to this report.

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