ST. PAUL, Minn. — A resignation by Senator Al Franken amid a growing cloud of sexual misconduct allegations will trigger a short-term appointment to replace him and a mad-dash special election in 2018 to finish the Minnesota Democrat’s term.
Democratic Governor Mark Dayton will appoint a replacement who would serve only until 2018, when the state will hold a special election to pick a candidate to finish Franken’s six-year term, set to expire in 2020.
Dayton will have to choose whether to make a short-term replacement, with eyes on filling the seat only for a year, or whether to try to set up a Democratic candidate for launching a 2018 campaign.
Dayton could start from within, appointing trusted Lieutenant Governor Tina Smith to take Franken’s seat. Smith had been eyeing the governor’s office before deciding against running for it in 2018, when Dayton’s term ends.
Smith is a longtime political operative known largely for behind-the-scenes work, having been Dayton’s chief of staff from 2011 through 2014 before stepping up as his running mate. She ran former vice president Walter Mondale’s brief US Senate campaign in 2002 after Senator Paul Wellstone died in a plane crash. She also served as a top executive at Planned Parenthood in Minnesota, North Dakota, and South Dakota.
Dayton could also look to a pair of fellow Democratic statewide elected officials: Attorney General Lori Swanson or Auditor Rebecca Otto.
The governor’s office declined to comment on its discussions.
Dayton could also choose to send a loud signal against sexual harassment with his appointment, naming someone such as Representative Erin Maye Quade to Franken’s seat. Maye Quade is a Democratic state lawmaker who, along with other women, accused two fellow state lawmakers of sexual harassment, resulting in their resignation last month.
Whether Dayton were to appoint a placeholder or lay the groundwork for next year, all eyes would immediately turn to a 2018 race.
Democratic candidates for governor could be best positioned to switch to a Senate bid, having spent months connecting with party activists and the donors who would be critical for a costly election. Longtime US Representative Tim Walz, St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman, and state Representative Erin Murphy are all running.
For Republicans, Franken’s exit could saddle Democrats with enough baggage to help the GOP break through in a statewide election for the first time in more than a decade. Republicans haven’t won since Governor Tim Pawlenty won a second term in 2006.
Pawlenty would be on Republicans’ shortlist to run for the Senate. He’s been pressed by political allies to consider running for governor in 2018, too. State House Speaker Kurt Daudt is in the same boat, having been openly considering a bid for governor for months.
Norm Coleman, the former Republican senator who Franken defeated by 312 votes in 2009 after a monthslong recount, remains deeply politically connected in both Minnesota and nationwide. After narrowly losing to Dayton in 2010, Representative Tom Emmer, a Republican representing Minnesota’s most conservative congressional district, could look at another statewide run after two terms in the House.