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Minnesota’s lieutenant governor, Tina Smith, will replace Al Franken

Smith will also run for Franken’s Senate seat in 2018.

Minnesota Lt. Gov. Tina Smith.
Ernesto Mastrascusa/LatinContent/Getty Images

Minnesota’s Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton has named his Lt. Gov. Tina Smith to replace outgoing Sen. Al Franken (D-MN), who resigned last week following allegations of sexual misconduct from multiple women.

Smith also said she will run for Franken’s Senate seat during the next year’s special election, bucking expectations that she would serve as a placeholder candidate and sit out the 2018 race.

“I accept this appointment and it will be my great honor to serve Minnesota as US senator,” Smith said. “Though I never anticipated this moment, I will do everything I can to move Minnesota forward.”

Smith has a number of attributes that make her a good prospect for Democrats. She’s a woman and a high-profile and active member of Dayton’s administration. Serving as lieutenant governor was Smith’s first turn in elected office, but she’s a longtime political operative in Minnesota — she became Dayton’s lieutenant governor after serving as his chief of staff for years.

Dayton and Smith have been colleagues for many years, which Dayton said made his choice for Franken’s replacement easier.

“She’s extremely intelligent, quick to learn and is always open to other’s views,” Dayton said. “She will be a senator that all Minnesotans can be proud of.”

As Franken resigned after allegations of sexual harassment from eight women, there was a lot of speculation that Dayton would be pressured to find a woman to fill his spot. As the governor’s Wednesday press conference continued, one reporter asked Dayton whether he felt uneasy being in the position of being a “kingmaker.”

Dayton paused.

“Well … queenmaker,” he said.

Smith confirmed she will run in 2018

Smith confirmed an important detail during Wednesday’s announcement: She will run during the 2018 special Senate election to replace Franken.

“I will run in that election, and I will do my best to earn Minnesotans’ support,” she said.

Besides Smith, there are other names floating as potential Democratic candidates for the Senate seat in 2018. These include current Democratic Reps. Tim Walz and Keith Ellison of Minnesota, neither of whom have said publicly whether they will run. They’d now have to face Smith, the sitting senator, in a primary.

Walz is one of the leading Democratic candidates for governor. Meanwhile, Ellison is a high-profile progressive politician who currently serves as vice chair of the Democratic National Committee.

An Ellison aide said that the Congress member is considering a 2018 run for Franken’s seat. Meanwhile, Politico reported last week that the National Nurses United union was pressuring Dayton to name Ellison as Franken’s replacement.

During today’s press conference, Dayton said he had spoken with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), who had advised him to choose someone who could run in 2018.

“Tina’s decision to run for the seat next year is her decision,” Dayton added.

Even before Franken’s resignation, 2018 was going to be a contentious year for Minnesota Democrats, according to Democratic Farmer Labor Party Chair Ken Martin.

“Absent the news today, Minnesota was already in the crosshairs,” Martin said in an interview. “Minnesota was already at the epicenter of the national political landscape, and now you throw on a nationally competitive Senate race.”

Franken wasn’t up for reelection until 2020, but now there may be an open race for his seat (which he won by just over 300 votes in 2008). Franken’s Democratic colleague from Minnesota, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, is up for reelection as well. And with Dayton’s term ending and no immediate successor lined up, Republicans are sure to challenge all Democrats for all three positions.

“This presents a major opportunity for Republicans in Minnesota,” GOP operative Brian McClung told Politico. “Republicans here are going to be energized by the chance to replace Al Franken.”

Martin called Franken a friend and said his loss will be felt in Minnesota and in the national political landscape. At the same time, he said he cannot excuse the allegations against Franken and believed the senator resigning was the right action to take.

“I feel absolutely terrible about losing Al Franken in the Senate,” Martin said. “That in no way excuses his behavior to the women that came forward. We believe Sen. Franken made the right decision.”

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