2 Democrats: Minnesota governor’s top choice mulling ‘18 run

  • (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

    Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., second from right, holds hands with his wife Franni Bryson, left, as he leaves the Capitol after speaking on the Senate floor, Thursday on Capitol Hill in Washington.

ST. PAUL, Minn. — Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton’s preferred appointee to fill Sen. Al Franken’s Senate seat, Lt. Gov. Tina Smith, is considering also running for the seat next year, as Dayton is being pressured by top Democrats in Washington to appoint more than a mere caretaker, according to two Democrats familiar with the discussions.

Franken said Thursday he would resign over allegations of sexual harassment, leaving Dayton to appoint a replacement until a special election next November to complete Franken’s term, which runs through 2020.

Dayton’s initial inclination was to pick Smith, a longtime aide and his second-in-command since 2015, to serve as a caretaker until next year’s election, a Democratic official told The Associated Press. The official requested anonymity because the official was not authorized to discuss private deliberations surrounding the appointment before Dayton’s announcement.

The official said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer has reached out to Dayton and pressured him to instead appoint someone who can use the opportunity as a running start for a 2018 campaign.

A senior Senate Democratic aide confirmed that Senate Democrats do not want a placeholder appointee. The aide spoke on condition of anonymity to freely discuss private discussions.

Amid that pushback, Smith is now considering running for the seat next year, according to the official and a separate Democratic operative familiar with the discussions surrounding the appointment. Smith had previously explored a run for Minnesota governor in 2018, when Dayton’s second and final term ends, but she ruled it out this spring.

Smith did not immediately reply to a text or voicemail seeking comment.

Speaking to reporters earlier Friday, Dayton reiterated he plans to make the appointment “in the next couple days” but would not discuss the factors or candidates he is weighing.

Smith, 59, has a bachelor’s degree from Stanford and an MBA from Dartmouth. She first moved to Minnesota to work for General Mills in marketing before starting her own business.

She ran former Vice President Walter Mondale’s brief Senate campaign in 2002 after Sen. Paul Wellstone died in a plane crash. She also served as a top executive at Planned Parenthood Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota.

She is largely known for behind the scenes work, having served as Dayton’s chief of staff before becoming his lieutenant governor. Dayton has long treated her as a near-equal partner in his administration, often representing him at important events, and she was widely seen as being groomed to succeed him.

But she announced last spring that she wouldn’t run, calling it a personal decision. She said at the time that she was comfortable in her role as Dayton’s No. 2.

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Associated Press writer Donna Cassata contributed from Washington.

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