Franken exit could be game-changer for control of Senate

Tim Pawlenty speaks beside Michele Bachmann during the Republican presidential debate in Ames

Tim Pawlenty speaks beside Michele Bachmann during the Republican presidential debate in Ames, Iowa, on August 11, 2011. POOL / Reuters

The Democratic bench in Minnesota is deep, as the party holds all of the partisan statewide elected offices, and Reps. Tim Walz and Keith Ellison have long been considered potential contenders for an open Senate seat. One senior Democratic Senate aide pointed to the state’s Attorney General, Lori Swanson, as a potential candidate. And Jake Sullivan, who was Vice President Joe Biden’s national security adviser and a top State Department and campaign aide to Hillary Clinton, has told friends in the past that he might seek office in Minnesota.

Ellison, who is the first African-American to represent Minnesota in Washington and the first Muslim elected to Congress, could be the most intriguing candidate to watch in a contested Democratic primary. A longtime leader among House progressives, he elevated his national profile as a surrogate for Bernie Sanders in 2016 and as the runner-up candidate for Democratic National Committee chairman after the campaign was over.

Jim Manley, a former Senate Democratic leadership aide and Minnesota native, said Democrats should be able to hold serve in Minnesota.

“There’s no such things as free shots in politics, but I feel pretty confident that Democrats can keep the seat in 2018,” Manley said. “I understand that Trump did very well there, but I think of the [Democrats] being discussed, there’s a whole bunch of people who can win in 2018.”

For Republicans, Pawlenty is in a class by himself as a potential candidate. But if he doesn’t run, former Rep. Michele Bachmann and several members of the current Minnesota delegation in the House, including Erik Paulsen and Tom Emmer, could be attractive alternatives for the GOP.

Though Minnesota has long been in Democratic hands at the presidential level, having last voted for a Republican in 1972, Republicans have won seven Senate elections in that span.

“It’s certainly a purple state and one that with the right candidate Republicans could compete to win,” Holmes said.

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