Senate: DFL cedes the field to Smith

It appears that Gov. Mark Dayton and the Minnesota DFL have salvaged as solid a position as they could have hoped for after Sen. Al Franken’s electoral career imploded on misconduct allegations.

Dayton named his favored candidate, Lt. Gov. Tina Smith, as his appointee to Franken’s seat when the second-term senator makes his resignation official. And in the week since Dayton’s announcement, the rest of the party has essentially ceded the DFL line in the 2018 special election to Smith. None of the large, and perhaps growing, field of Democrats hoping to succeed Dayton as governor switched to the open Senate race.

Even on the Republican side, there appears relatively little appetite for the seat. Former Sen. Norm Coleman emphatically took himself out of the field soon after Smith’s appointment. Former Gov. Tim Pawlenty, while less definitive than Coleman, has hinted that he’s content with his current occupation. At one time or another a dozen names have put themselves in the running for the GOP nomination for governor; only one of those, an uncredentialed candidate, has shifted to the Senate special election. Smith is clearly well-regarded in DFL circles. She has run campaigns for Walter Mondale, Ted Mondale and R.T. Rybak. Dayton as governor and Rybak as Minneapolis mayor leaned heavily on her. But her only elected position is her current one as lieutenant governor, and she is untested not only as a senator but as a candidate. One would think politicians of ambition would see an opportunity here.

It’s early, of course, and this week a Republican state senator from the Stillwater area, Karin Housely, announced her campaign for the Franken seat. Housely is the wife of hockey Hall of Famer Phil Housely, the coach of the NHL Buffalo Sabres. More important, she is a two-term legislator and committee chair who was part of a statewide campaign three years ago as running mate to Republican gubernatorial hopeful Scott Honour. Perhaps more Republicans will get into the race.

But there should be no doubt about the challenge. Franken spent years laying the groundwork for his first election; Smith, and anybody of either party seeking to challenge her, has less than a year to prepare for the special election. And then there will be the seat’s regular cycle in 2020. Two statewide campaigns in three years on short notice is a daunting proposition.

This is one explanation why there are 18 candidates, serious and frivolous, for the governor’s chair Dayton will vacate, and so few for the two U.S. Senate seats. Another may be this: It’s easier to imagine oneself accomplishing something useful as governor than in the morass that is Washington these days.

— Mankato Free Press