Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton appointed Lt. Gov. Tina Smith on Wednesday to replace fellow Democratic Sen. Al Franken until a special election in November, setting up his long-time and trusted adviser for a potentially bruising 2018 election.
Smith was widely seen as Dayton’s top choice from the moment Franken announced his resignation last week.
But her previous decision not to run for governor had raised questions about whether she would want to launch a Senate campaign that would be in the national spotlight.
Smith told reporters Wednesday that she intends to run to complete Franken’s term through 2020.
‘I can tell you I shouldn’t be underestimated and if I weren’t confident I wouldn’t be doing this,’ she said.
Taking over: Lt Gov Tina Smith will become Minnesota’s junior senator in place of Al Franken when the disgraced former comedian puts his resignation into effect
Taken down: Franken’s political career ended in disgrace as a string of women, led by Leeann Tweeden, revealed how he had groped them and tried to force kisses on them
Still here: Franken was at the Democratic Senate policy luncheon on Tuesday and continues to walk the corridors of power despite saying he would resign
It’s not clear when Smith will head to Washington. Franken, 66, who resigned under pressure from his own party after he was accused of improper behavior by at least eight women, announced last Thursday that he would resign ‘in the coming weeks.’
His office said Tuesday that he had not yet set a final departure date.
The appointment won’t change the balance of power in the Senate.
Smith, 59, served as Dayton’s trusted chief of staff for four years before ascending to become his No. 2 when he needed a running mate in 2014.
Dayton has long treated her as an equal in the office, and it was that deference that fueled speculation she was being groomed to succeed him.
Smith’s path to politics was unconventional. A native of New Mexico, she graduated from Stanford and earned an MBA from Dartmouth.
A marketing job with General Mills brought her to Minnesota, where she eventually started her own marketing and political consulting firm.
She managed Ted Mondale’s unsuccessful campaign for governor in 1998, then ran the short-lived 2002 Senate campaign for his dad, former Vice President Walter Mondale.
Resignation statement: Franken said he was leaving the Senate in a public statement last week, and left accompanied by Franni, his wife of 41 years. But he has yet to leave his seat or say when he will
Smith served as chief of staff to Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak before eventually taking the same job with Dayton in 2011.
Smith, a soft-spoken, smiling presence at the Capitol, is credited with playing quiet but key roles in the response to the 2007 bridge collapse in Minneapolis and in the building of a new Vikings stadium.
Dayton made her his point person on a massive public-private partnership to work with Mayo Clinic on an ambitious expansion in Rochester.
Next year’s race to fill the final two years of Franken’s term is certain to be one of the nation’s most closely watched and expensive, and Dayton was under pressure from fellow Democrats in Washington to ensure his pick would use the appointment as a springboard for that election.
Republicans immediately floated former two-term Gov. Tim Pawlenty as a possible candidate, but many others were said to be weighing a race.
Smith may have competition from her own party as well, with several Democrats who had hoped to succeed Dayton likely to eye the Senate race as well.
And her past work with Planned Parenthood in Minnesota and other Midwestern states, where she served as an executive, was sure to become a flash point with Republicans on the campaign trail.