Those who bet on Al Franken changing his mind had better prepare to hear from their bookies. The Star Tribune reported earlier this afternoon that Franken formally submitted his resignation to Gov. Mark Dayton as promised, two months after a series of allegations regarding sexual misconduct emerged. His replacement will join the Senate tomorrow as planned:
U.S. Sen. Al Franken is quitting the U.S. Senate on Tuesday.
A spokesman for Franken said he had formally submitted a letter of resignation to Gov. Mark Dayton. A copy of the letter was not immediately available, but the spokesman said the resignation would take effect in the afternoon.
Franken’s replacement, Lt. Gov. Tina Smith, will be sworn in Wednesday when Congress reconvenes.
That ends what little drama remained in the Franken story. As noted earlier, Franken insists he will remain politically active, but that may be a lot more aspirational than prophetic. He’s enjoyed a brief renaissance since his December 11th resignation speech as a symbol of the damage done by moral panics, and there is still plenty of room for debate over the unfair treatment Franken got from his fellow Senate Democrats. However, Franken chose to resign rather than stand up for himself when he had the chance, as that picture of him humiliating a sleeping Leeann Tweeden will be impossible to overcome. Franken’s public moment has expired without much to show for it after nearly nine years in office and several more as an activist.
Minnesota Democrats will throw their weight behind Smith now, who agreed to pursue the office in 2018’s special election to fill the last two years of Franken’s term. She’s not likely to face a serious primary challenge; the whole point of Chuck Schumer’s intervention with Dayton was to avoid a primary fight that would require national-party intervention in a cycle that’s already tough enough for Democrats. That might change in 2020, depending on whether Smith impresses in Washington or not, but the value of incumbency will probably outweigh the individual political ambitions within the DFL.
The Republican primary will be wide open, however, and may have already attracted one well-known candidate. Last week, former Congresswoman and presidential aspirant Michele Bachmann told televangelist Jim Bakker that she’s discerning whether to make a run for the 2018 special election:
“I’ve had people contact me and urge me to run for that Senate seat. …And the only reason I would run is for the ability to take these principles into the United States Senate and be able to advocate for these principles,” Bachmann told The Jim Bakker Show on Dec. 27.
Bachmann, a conservative lawmaker who resigned after 2014, added in the recent interview she is weighing “should it be me, should it be now? But there’s also a price you pay” and the “swamp is so toxic.”
“If you’re a billionaire you can maybe defend yourself, [but] we’re not money people. …So we’re trying to be wise—should we do this, shouldn’t we do this, what?” she added.
Bachmann also makes the point during the interview that she may not weigh the possibilities for victory as part of that calculation. She tells Bakker that her 2012 presidential run was a success because it forced all of the other candidates to adopt a hard line against ObamaCare. In a Senate race, however, she’d be less likely to move candidates to harder-line conservative positions than to act as a foil for Republicans to capture the middle.
While Bachmann does have a significant following in her former district and proven ability to raise money, the chances of success would probably be slim at best. She and Keith Ellison have the same issue — a district that supported both but a state in which neither could win a majority. Bachmann is too much a hard-line conservative to beat the DFL in a very purple-to-blue state, where no Republican has won statewide office since Tim Pawlenty’s re-election in 2006. Appearing on Bakker’s show is not likely to help with that issue either, and neither will her 2012 remarks attacking vaccination when she tried to get to the right of Rick Perry.
The Republican field will likely begin to emerge soon, however. State senator Karin Housely has already thrown her hat in the ring, which gives the state GOP a solid conservative in the race with a track record to build confidence in her bona fides without the controversy. Bachmann would make the race more interesting and more national, but the Minnesota GOP might have their own incentives for keeping it a local affair, too.