Putting aside personal feelings, the battle for the Senate seat currently occupied by Tina Smith is going to emerge as one of the most hotly contested races in the nation. Klobuchar will have an easy ride thus allowing both parties to focus on the Housley, Painter, and Smith competition.
Overall, Democrats may feel comfortable with a seven point lead in the generic ballot when respondents are asked which party they would prefer to control Congress. Unfortunately, that number does not factor in the effects of gerrymandering which heavily favors the GOP and will have an effect on control of the House.
But that seven point lead does clearly help the Democrats on the Senate side. One element that could be key is the level of enthusiasm. Karin Housley, a strong Trump supporter, will benefit because the election could well be seen as a referendum on the impeachment of Trump thereby exciting the Trump base. Richard Painter, if he is the DFL primary winner, will also have it because he has long been a key anti-Trump figure on the national level and that will turn out the Democrat base.
The real question mark is Tina Smith who scores poorly in the enthusiasm contest. Worse still is the fact that she currently trails Housley in at least one credible internal poll. That has created considerable nervousness among national Democratic leaders who very much want control of the Senate. Their interest in Richard Painter is increasing.
All three candidates are relatively unknown to the voters and all these current impressions could easily change. However, for the incumbent to be in this position bodes poorly for her.
Elections tend to be about the incumbent’s record and, in this case, that is largely unknown. Richard Painter, a highly skilled attorney, is already raising questions about the role of foreign interests in the proposed copper mining controversy in northern Minnesota. Governor Dayton has publicly wondered aloud about the conflict of interests involved. What precisely is he referring to? Regardless, Smith, as the incumbent, is going to have to play a more public role in this budding controversy. The environmental vote could be pivotal.
And the public monies that have been poured into the U.S. Bank stadium while shortchanging education is certainly a rising concern. This will become more visible as Tina Smith’s negotiating role on behalf of the Governor is examined.
Further complicating her mission is that there still is some bitterness over the departure of Al Franken and the lack of due process. Many Minnesotans feel that the Governor should have appointed a placeholder and thereby allow an open and competitive process to take place. And the role of New York Senator Schumer in “advising” the Governor remains a concern. In this instance, being an insider and a benefactor may not be an asset.
How quickly she gets out in front of these issues may well be key to her survival. But the bottom line is simple: That Senate seat is up for grabs. All candidates would be well advised to bring all their concerns out early and deal with them in robust public debates. Good public policy requires openness and full disclosure so we, the public, can be properly informed.