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Tina Smith named Minnesota's new U.S. Senator, will run in 2018 election

Renee Jones Schneider, Star Tribune

Renee Jones Schneider, Star Tribune

About 1.3 million people in Alabama voted in a U.S. Senate election on Tuesday, and a slim majority elected Democrat Doug Jones over the alleged pervert and confirmed weirdo religious cowboy Roy Moore.

Wednesday morning, exactly one Minnesotan voted on a replacement for DFL U.S. Sen. Al Franken. With all precincts reporting, Lt. Gov. Tina Smith won in a landslide.

Asked about his role as a "king-maker" in appointing Smith, his trusted confidante, Gov. Mark Dayton jokingly corrected a reporter with a more appropriate term: "queen-maker."

Smith, who served as Dayton's chief of staff during Dayton's first term, name-dropped the liberal lions who'd held the seat currently occupied by Franken, and said she intends to live up to their legacies.

"This Senate seat has a strong, abiding legacy of service and social justice that runs back to Paul Wellstone, Walter Mondale, Gene McCarthy and Hubert Humphrey," Smith said. "As I take on this new position, in this extraordinary time we are in, I will do my best to move this legacy forward, toward a better, more inclusive and more just future for all of us. "

That Smith would be Dayton's pick for the seat was widely reported prior to Wednesday's press conference. Less clear was whether she would run to defend the seat in the 2018 mid-term election, or merely hold the seat as a place-holder.

Smith confirmed she'll run, and dodged a question about the challenge posed by running in a statewide election -- Smith's first, as a top-of-the-ticket candidate -- in an artful yet badass manner.

"Conversations about campaigns and elections I want to wait for another day," Smith said. "But I can tell you, I shouldn't be underestimated, and if I weren't confident, I wouldn't be doing this." 

Dayton said he'd consulted with Minnesota's Congressional delegation about the appointment, and also spoke with Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-New York), leader of the Senate Democratic caucus, but said the decision was his alone. 

"I considered a number of people, got a great deal of advice --  both solicited, and unsolicited, which is understandable," Dayton said. "And I listened to it all, and Tina's my selection, and I'm very confident that I've made the right decision." 

Smith decilned to speak directly to the sexual harassment allegations against Franken, who she called a "real champion for the state," but did speak generally about the wider cultural shift toward recognizing harassment and outing perpetrators.

"Sexual harassment is disrespectful to people, and it can't be tolerated," Smith said. "We are in the middle of a sea change of attitudes about this right now. I think in some ways, this sea change is being led by young women, who tell women of my generation that, maybe some of the things we put up with during our lives, we shouldn't have to put up with. And that is a good thing, and it is so important that we don't slide backward, that we continue to move forward."

Smith was also asked about her background as a former executive with Planned Parenthood of Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota, where she served as a vice president in the mid-2000s. Smith said the organization provides "treatment and healthcare for sexually transmitted diseases, and cancer screenings, to thousands and thousands, and thousands of women," adding: "I'm proud of that work."

Dayton's pick of Smith might create an awkward transition in his own administration: State law dictates that an outgoing lieutenant governor be replaced by the President of the Minnesota Senate. Currently, that's a Republican -- GOP Sen. Michelle Fischbach, of Paynesville -- who might not be keen on involuntarily leaving the Senate... and to join a DFL administration. (A special session could also be called for the purpose of replacing Fischbach with a Democrat.) 

Asked about the possible effect to the line of succession, Dayton cracked a joke. 

"I absolutely wholeheartedly support Tina Smith for Democratic Senate nomination, and I hope the people of Minnesota will elect her in 2018," he said. "I intend to be alive then. And even at least a couple months after." 

Dayton acknowlegded that "in an ideal world, this would not be unfolding," but said his "top priority is giving the people of Minnesota who I believe to be the very best senator starting the day that she takes office. And I think she'll prove that to Minnesotans."

Franken has yet to officially resign his seat, though Smith said she plans to be in Washington starting in January. 

"I respect [Franken's] work," Smith said. "But I will take on this role in my own way, using my own judgment and experience. That's what I can tell you. That, I think, is the most important thing."