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Minnesota Lt. Gov. Tina Smith Picked to Replace Al Franken in Senate

Says she will run for election in 2018 in Likely Democratic race

Lt. Gov. Tina Smith, seen here with former Vice President Walter F. Mondale, will fill the Senate seat vacated by DFL Sen. Al Franken. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Lt. Gov. Tina Smith, seen here with former Vice President Walter F. Mondale, will fill the Senate seat vacated by DFL Sen. Al Franken. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton on Wednesday said he would appoint Lt. Gov. Tina Smith to fill the Senate seat being vacated by outgoing Sen. Al Franken, who has yet to announce his resignation date. 

Smith said Wednesday she will run for the remainder of Franken’s term, which is up in 2020. The special election will be held concurrently with next year’s midterms, when Democratic-Farmer-Labor Sen. Amy Klobuchar also faces voters.

“I shouldn’t be underestimated, and if I weren’t confident, I wouldn’t be doing this,” Smith said.

Smith said Franken’s staff is “working to finalize the details” of his resignation, but she expects the transition to occur in early January. She’s meeting with his staff in Minnesota Wednesday and hopes most of them will stay on board.

Asked if Dayton had anything in writing from Franken about his resignation, the governor said no. “I know Sen. Franken is a man of his word,” he said. “I fully expect he will follow through.”

Dayton was under pressure to appoint a woman after Franken resigned amid allegations he inappropriately touched women.

[Ratings Change: Franken Steps Down Amid Allegations, Seat Starts Likely Democratic]

The majority of his Senate Democratic colleagues called on the second-term senator to step aside. In a Dec. 7 speech on the Senate floor, Franken said he’d resign in the coming weeks, but denied some of the allegations against him. 

Smith, 59, had never held elected office before Dayton asked her to be his running mate in 2014.

Prior to that, she was his chief of staff. Dayton, himself a former senator, is term-limited. Smith had considered running for the DFL nomination for governor in 2018, but decided against it. 

She previously worked as a marketing manager for General Mills. She was also the vice president for external affairs for Planned Parenthood of Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota. 

[From Top Lieutenant to Lt. Governor]

Her political experience predates her tenure as lieutenant governor. She became chief of staff to Minneapolis Mayor R. T. Rybak in 2006. She’s close to former Vice President Walter F. Mondale and managed his brief 2002 Senate campaign. 

Republicans have been waiting to see whom Dayton appoints before declaring their interest in the 2018 race, which Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates Likely Democratic. Hillary Clinton won Minnesota by less than 2 points last fall.

Former GOP Gov. Tim Pawlenty has said he’s considering the race. Winning re-election in 2006, he was the last Republican to win a statewide election in Minnesota. Former Sen. Norm Coleman, whom Franken unseated in 2008, ruled out a bid last week and has said he’ll be meeting with Pawlenty to talk about Senate service. 

[What Happens to Franken’s Seat If He Resigns?

GOP freshman Rep. Jason Lewis, who was elected to the 2nd District last fall, could take a look at the race. 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. 


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