MINNEAPOLIS — The sudden downfall of Sen. Al Franken amid the rise of the #MeToo movement set the course for a two-woman race to finish his term, part of an unusual primary Tuesday featuring both of Minnesota’s Senate seats on the same ballot.
Franken’s successor, Democratic Sen. Tina Smith, easily defeated a former Republican ethics attorney-turned top critic of President Donald Trump to advance to the fall election. State Sen. Karin Housley, who won the GOP endorsement, was her party’s heavy favorite to face Smith.
In Minnesota’s other Senate race, popular incumbent Amy Klobuchar easily defeated four Democrats and will face the GOP’s endorsed candidate, state Rep. Jim Newberger, in the fall.
Franken, a Democrat and former “Saturday Night Live” comedian, resigned at the beginning of the year after a firestorm erupted last November amid a string of sexual misconduct allegations.
Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton appointed Smith , his lieutenant governor and a top aide, to the seat until this November’s special election to fill out the final two years of Franken’s term.
A Smith-Housley matchup would come at a time when the #MeToo movement has changed the American landscape, sweeping many high-profile men out of power in politics , media and entertainment . A record number of women are now running for governor and Congress across the country.
Democrats resoundingly endorsed Smith at their state convention in June. But there were hints of some Democratic voters who wanted Smith to take a more vocal role in criticizing the president. They found that in Painter, a former ethics attorney in President George W. Bush’s administration whose profile rose as a strident critic on cable TV.
Painter, now a law professor at the University of Minnesota, ran to Smith’s left on some other issues, including supporting single-payer health care and opposing copper-nickel mining. But Smith easily defeated him.
Bryan Rich, 42, said Smith was an easy choice, saying he “wouldn’t trust Painter” to behave as a real Democrat.
“He’s not a true liberal, I don’t think,” he said.
Housley, who had no opposition for the GOP endorsement, was considered the strong favorite over two little-known Republicans.
The two-term state senator’s name is familiar in hockey-crazy Minnesota because her husband is Phil Housley, the Hall of Fame defenseman who jumped straight from South St. Paul High School into the NHL and now coaches the Buffalo Sabres.
By STEVE KARNOWSKI , Associated Press