Chuck Schumer to the rescue? When confronted with the necessity of naming an interim senator to replace the resigning-at-some-time-in-the-future Al Franken, Governor Mark Dayton indicated that he’d pick his longtime aide and lieutenant governor, Tina Smith, as a caretaker to get through 2018’s special election. Smith reportedly had no political ambitions for electoral office, and her appointment would allow the DFL to hold an open primary for the 2018 nomination to fill the final two years of Franken’s term.
Now, suddenly, Smith does have political ambitions — and pressure from Chuck Schumer to avoid an open primary might be the cause:
A Democratic operative who’s been privy to Smith’s thinking told the Star Tribune that if Dayton picks her, she has not ruled out running for Franken’s seat in a special election in 2018 — and, if she wins, running again for a full six-year term in 2020.
For U.S. Senate Democrats in particular, Dayton’s appointment could provide the party an important head start in holding on to Franken’s seat with a 2018 national Senate map that favors Republicans.
Dayton has had a couple conversations with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, according to a source close to the governor. A Senate appointee who pivots immediately to the special election would get the advantage of media attention and access to national Democratic donors.
That’s certainly true, but that’s not the reason Schumer would be leaning on Dayton to play kingmaker. Senate Democrats face a nightmare scenario already in 2018, defending 25 seats against just eight for Republicans. Minnesota was not on their list of potential battlegrounds even with Amy Klobuchar running for another term next year. Klobuchar is expected to win easily with or without national Democrats pitching in to help. That allowed the DSCC to shift funds elsewhere — or at least it did until Senate Democrats pushed Franken out of the Senate.
The last thing they need now is to have to spend a ton of money in Minnesota, especially since their fundraising hasn’t exactly been blowing Republicans away. The DNC won’t be any help at all, with barely 10% of the RNC’s current cash-on-hand and an inexplicable inability to raise funds in the Trump-dominated political environment. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which would take on the major load of national intervention in Minnesota, has done better; at the end of the third quarter, they had slightly more cash on hand ($15.8 million) and less debt ($8 million) than their Republican counterparts in the NRSC ($14.8 million and $10.7 million, respectively). However, the DSCC will have to split those funds across many more races that the NRSC, and they may be pouring away their advantage already in Alabama’s special election on Tuesday to elect Doug Jones, where the NRSC has pointedly refused to spend a dime on Roy Moore. And even if Jones wins, the DSCC will have to spend a lot of money in an attempt to keep him in that seat next November, too.
Small wonder, then, that Schumer has decided to become the power behind the drone and force Dayton to settle matters up front. An open primary will eat up DFL fundraising on which the DSCC would heavily rely for the general election, and a non-incumbent invites Republicans to recruit some heavyweights in an attempt to wrest back the seat that Norm Coleman once held. Coleman’s already made it clear that he’s not interested, but the last Republican to win statewide office has suddenly expressed interest in the future of that seat:
Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty says he’s considering running for Sen. Al Franken’s U.S. Senate seat.
The Republican governor and onetime presidential candidate insisted Friday that he’s still “politically retired.” But Pawlenty would be a prized recruit in 2018 for Republicans hoping to capitalize on Franken’s resignation amid a cloud of sexual misconduct allegations.
Just how prized? Given the landscape here in Minnesota, the state GOP might start referring to him as Obi-Wan:
Pawlenty, 57, is the dream candidate for the GOP, particularly after former Sen. Norm Coleman, who lost his seat to Franken by a few hundred votes in 2008, said Thursday that he won’t run. Pawlenty currently serves as CEO of the Financial Services Roundtable, a Washington lobbying group, and is considered a good bet to raise a lot of money quickly. There was no word from him Thursday.
“Everybody in Minnesota on the Republican side is extremely eager to hear from Tim Pawlenty,” said Josh Holmes, a Republican strategist and former chief of staff to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and who is from Minnesota. “He would be a spectacular candidate if he would consider it.”
If the former governor takes a pass, Republicans might consider recruiting his wife. Mary Pawlenty served as a state court judge for thirteen years, stepping down in her husband’s second term as governor. She then served briefly as the director of a children’s health non-profit before focusing on a private-sector career as a mediator. There has long been chatter about recruiting Judge Pawlenty for electoral office — and given the circumstances of Franken’s departure, this might be a propitious time to launch that effort. That would give Republicans a high-profile female candidate combined with the former governor’s organizing and fundraising capabilities.
Either Pawlenty would force Democrats to spend heavily in a state where their biggest fundraiser — Al Franken — has been sidelined. That combined with an open primary that eats up contributions desperately needed for the general election would be the nightmare scenario for Senate Democrats. That’s why Schumer is pushing Dayton to protect the DFL flank, even if it means angering the progressive activists in the state who want a primary fight. The biggest question might be why Dayton couldn’t figure this out for himself, but Minnesotans already know the answer to that.