Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton appointed fellow Democrat Lt. Gov. Tina Smith on Wednesday to replace Sen. Al Franken until a special election in November, setting up his long-time and trusted adviser for a potentially bruising 2018 election.
Smith was widely seen as Dayton’s top choice from the moment Franken announced his resignation last week, and she said she would run in the November special election to complete Franken’s term through 2020.
“I will run in that election and I will do my best to earn Minnesotans’ support,” she said at the news conference where Dayton announced her appointment.
Smith had previously declined to run for governor, raising questions about whether she would launch a Senate campaign that would be in the national spotlight.
She said she decided to take the position as more than a mere caretaker after some reflection.
“This is an extraordinary moment,” she said, apparently referring not only to Franken’s resignation amid allegations of sexually inappropriate behavior, but also to the tenor of politics today. “I had to ask myself what is the best way to serve.” She said her decision to stand for election shows a “commitment” to the job.
There have been rumblings that Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) was encouraging Dayton to select a replacement who will be a viable candidate in the 2018 special election for this seat. The Dems desperately wanted someone who could be a worry-free candidate in a solidly blue state since they have 25 other seats (as opposed to only 8 for the GOP) to defend next year. Depending upon who the Republicans select as their candidate, this particular race could have an impact on the Senate's balance of power. If Dems have to divert valuable resources towards a race for what is normally a safe seat, that means there would be less funds available for such vulnerable candidates as Heidi Heitkamp (ND), Jon Tester (MT), Joe Donnelly (IN), Claire McCaskill (MO) and Joe Manchin (WV).
Like they've done with Sen. Amy Klobuchar, the left is downplaying Smith's far left progressive chops, specifically her affiliation with Planned Parenthood of MN, SD and ND, where she was their Vice President at one point in her career. Smith also served as Chief of Staff for Minneapolis mayor R.T. Rybak during his second term. While experience in those posts may play well among the DFL's metrocrats, it's going to be a tougher sell for outstate Dem voters.
All that said, Smith does have experience in being part of a winning statewide campaign when she was Dayton's running mate during the 2014 cycle. And campaigning in tandem with the popular Klobuchar (who's also up in 2018) certainly will not be a detriment.
Now we await the names of those who will vie for the GOP nomination for this seat. Choose wisely, Republicans.