Franken resignation could upend Minnesota races
Sen. Al Franken’s (D-Minn.) possible resignation on Thursday could set off a scramble among potential candidates to fill his seat while putting both Senate seats in the state up for reelection in 2018.
Franken’s Democratic colleagues rapidly pulled support from him on Wednesday, as more than half of the Senate Democratic Conference — led by a stream of successive statements seemingly coordinated by half a dozen female senators — called on Franken to resign in the wake of sexual misconduct allegations.
Democratic National Committee (DNC) Chairman Tom Perez joined that chorus, upping speculation that Franken will step aside on Thursday, when he’s slated to make an announcement.
State law dictates that Minnesota’s governor, Democrat Mark Dayton, must appoint a candidate who will serve until the 2018 elections. At that point, there’d be a special election to determine who would serve the final two years of Franken’s term before another election in 2020 for a full six-year term.
That outcome would roil what’s already slated to be a raucous election year for Minnesota politics. Next year, the state will see competitive elections for governor, attorney general and two state Senate seats, as well as a high-profile battle for control of the state House.
Dayton would have an interesting choice in front of him if he has to pick a replacement for Franken: He could either appoint a caretaker to hold the seat who has no interest in running in 2018 or boost a candidate that he favors to win the special election. He also could be under pressure to appoint a woman to the post, given the fallout over Franken.
Democrats in the state can draw on a deep bench, including a handful of candidates running for governor, from which Dayton could draw his pick. His choice could have significant implications on both the gubernatorial race and the futures of the state’s top Democrats.
Rep. Tim Walz (D-Minn.) is already emerging as the front-runner in the governor’s race. So a Franken departure could open the door for other gubernatorial candidates, including state Auditor Rebecca Otto, state Rep. Erin Murphy and St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman, to transition their statewide campaign operations to running to replace Franken.
State Attorney General Lori Swanson (D), who has served in that spot for a decade, is still weighing a gubernatorial bid of her own. A Franken resignation could change her calculus and make her a top candidate for the seat too.
Then there’s Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), the high-profile progressive who is a close confidant of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and serves as the DNC’s vice chairman. Ellison has a strong fundraising and support network, thanks to his bid to lead the DNC earlier this year, but his office did not respond to questions as to whether he’d consider a Senate run.
Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Minn.) also could take a look at the seat. McCollum sits in the safest Democratic district in the state, so the party would have no trouble holding it if she left for the Senate.
And, if Dayton decides to pick a caretaker to hold the seat, one option could be Lt. Gov. Tina Smith (D). She’s already turned down a gubernatorial bid, which could make it less likely that she’d consider a Senate bid herself.
No statewide race in Minnesota will be seen as an easy for Republicans, but the GOP will likely be targeting the seat too, pointing to the state’s narrow margin in the 2016 presidential election.
While the state hasn’t voted for a Republican presidential candidate in decades, President Trump performed well, narrowly losing the state by less than 2 percentage points last year.
Two familiar faces that state Republicans believe could make waves are former Gov. Tim Pawlenty and former Sen. Norm Coleman, who lost to Franken in 2008 by a few hundred votes.
While Pawlenty has publicly tamped down rumors he’s considering a gubernatorial bid, an opening in the Senate could mix things up. And Coleman, who was spotted in the Capitol on Wednesday, told reporters that he hasn’t ruled out a bid.
“Those are two guys that have been on the sidelines for the long time, and they have the national recognition and fundraising ability to take on the [Democratic-Farm-Labor] machine in Minnesota,” one top Minnesota Republican told The Hill.
Another possible candidate could be Rep. Tom Emmer (R-Minn.), who lost a narrow race for governor in 2010.
It’s also possible that state Rep. Jim Newberger, the Republican already running against Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), could hop over to an open seat if he believes a crowded primary could be a better bet than a tough slog against a popular incumbent.
Similarly, Republicans predicted that a Franken resignation or retirement could scramble the crowded GOP gubernatorial field.
Stewart Mills III, a businessman who lost to Rep. Rick Nolan (D-Minn.) in each of the past two cycles, told The Hill that while he doesn’t expect Franken to resign, he’d “more than kick the tires” on a bid if Franken stepped down.