As Minnesota begins to prepare for a special election to fill the Senate seat of the soon-to-be-resigning Al Franken, there seems to be at least a slight hope that Republicans might wrest control from the Democrats. In blue Minnesota, a Republican pickup would be a long shot, but it isn’t out of the question.
When Franken resigns, the first step in the process will be for Gov. Mark Dayton (D-Minn.) to appoint a temporary successor. A permanent replacement will be picked in a special election in November 2018. Dayton has not announced who will replace Franken, but whoever he chooses will have the advantage of incumbency in the special election. However, as Luther Strange (R-Ala.) learned the hard way, appointed incumbents are not assured of victory in special elections.
Shortly after Franken’s intention became known, the Cook Political Report moved the Minnesota Senate race into the tossup category. Jennifer Duffy points to Franken’s 312-vote margin in 2008 as well as Hillary Clinton’s half-percent victory over Donald Trump in 2016 as evidence that a Republican could be competitive in a statewide race in Minnesota.
The FiveThirtyEight blog agrees, noting that the state of Minnesota gives Democrats only a slight advantage while the generic congressional ballot currently has Democrats leading Republicans by eight points. The formula shows a generic Democrat leading in the Minnesota race by about nine points. In comparison, Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), who recently eluded jail on corruption charges thanks to a mistrial, is forecast to win his reelection by about 20 points in a deep blue state using the same formula.
The biggest unknown variable is who the candidates will be. Two likely Republican contenders are Tim Pawlenty, a popular former governor who ran for president in 2012, and Norm Coleman, who lost his senatorial seat to Franken in 2008 in what many believe was a stolen election. There are at least a half-dozen other Republicans and as many Democrats who may toss their hats in the ring as well.
No matter who the Republican candidate is, 2018 is shaping up to be a difficult year for Republicans, especially in states that lean Democrat. Many early signs, from fundraising data to President Trump’s approval rating, point to a possible Democrat wave building for the midterm elections next year.
Nevertheless, Franken’s resignation will make things a little bit harder for the Democrats. Minnesota’s open seat brings the total of Senate seats that Democrats must defend to 24. Four of those, including Minnesota, are currently rated as tossups by Cook. The loss of any of these seats would make Democrat hopes of winning control of the Senate very unlikely. Events and candidates may mean that Minnesota isn’t a tossup long, but, for the moment, the Gopher State provides a glimmer of hope for the GOP.