Looks like the Al Franken decade will not turnout as well as Al Franken had hoped. The serial groper and senator from Minnesota will announce his resignation on Thursday; though he is denying a decision has been made, the drumbeat of calls became deafening today and it seems unlikely he can ride it out and avoid a resignation. Gov. Mark Dayton (D) will appoint a new senator to fill Franken’s seat and a special election will be held in November 2018 to fill the remainder of Franken’s term which ends in 2021.
The question of who runs obviously depends a great deal on who Dayton appoints. In a state with a large bench of female Dems, there is likely to be significant pressure to appoint a woman, and accordingly most of the top candidates are female. LG Tina Smith (D) is extremely close to Dayton and probably could have the appointment if she wants it, but seeing as she is currently de facto Governor due to Dayton’s health issues and declined to run for the office herself, it seems more likely than not she doesn’t want a major spotlight role. After Smith, the right of refusal probably goes to AG Lori Swanson (D). Swanson has been shadowboxing with a run for Governor, which would put her in a competitive convention/primary against Rep. Tim Walz (D) and others; a Senate appointment for Swanson could be a good way to make Walz’s path clearer (or alternatively but less likely, Walz could be plucked out of the Gov race with the appointment to make way for Swanson). From the House, Rep. Betty McCollum (D) is the most obvious name; while she is a backbencher in the House she is a relatively generic liberal that could be a decent statewide candidate. Progressive groups have been pushing strongly for Rep. Keith Ellison (D), but he might be about as weak a Dem as possible here. One other name who is getting some buzz but who seems unlikely is State Auditor Rebecca Otto (D), who is running for Governor but a long-shot due to her friction with Iron Range Dems.
There are several other options who are unlikely to get the appointment but still worth a mention: the other two members of the House delegation, Reps. Collin Peterson (D) and Rick Nolan (D), are unlikely as they are aging and right of the state’s Dem primary electorate. SoS Steve Simon (D), gubernatorial candidate and outgoing St. Paul mayor Chris Coleman (D), State Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk (D), Dayton Admin official and ex-State Sen. Katie Seiben (D), and Dayton admin official and incoming St. Paul mayor-elect Mel Carter (D) are all worth a mention as dark-horse prospects. Of course there is a possibility Dayton just tries to sidestep this entirely and appoint a placeholder to let the field slug it out in a primary; ex-AG Skip Humphrey (D), who now works at the CFPB, could be a placeholder appointee. Smith could fill the placeholder role as well. If a placeholder is not appointed, said appointee is probably no worse than 50-50 to get a clear primary field.
Republicans are likely to seriously contest this race; while it’s not a great pickup opportunity in the 2018 environment Minnesota is looking increasingly purple and with a possibly-unproven appointee this seat could be enticing for an “A” list Republican. Ex-Sen. Norm Coleman (R), who memorably “lost” to Franken in the squeaker 2008 race, is apparently already seriously considering a comeback bid and could be Republicans’ strongest contender. Another blast from the past, ex-Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R), has also been flitting around the edges of the political scene and could try a comeback here. From the younger generation, Rep. Erik Paulsen (R) may decide to take the chance on moving up instead of trying for an equally-tough race in his purple MN-3, but he has declined opportunities to climb the latter before. Fellow Rep. Tom Emmer (R) could also be a possibility, though less likely as he seems unlikely to want to give up his Safe seat, while freshman Rep. Jason Lewis (R) is probably too polarizing to be a credible statewide contender. From the “B” list, any of the various candidates running for Governor, including Hennepin County commissioner Jeff Johnson (R), State Sen. Matt Osmek (R), State Rep. Matt Dean (R), ex-State Rep. and ex-MNGOP chair Keith Downey (R), and Woodbury Mayor Mary Guiliani-Stevens (R), could switch here. Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek (R) and businessman and 2014 nominee Mike McFadden (R) may also be worth a watch. State Rep. Jim Newberger (R), currently the sacrificial lamb in a hopeless run against popular Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D), could switch to this seat, but would be as much of a long shot here.