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The Future Of Franken's Seat

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

And let's listen to just a few of Senator Al Franken's parting words yesterday. Franken resigned after several women accused him of unwanted sexual contact. And in a speech on the Senate floor, he said politics isn't easy and there are no guarantees.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

AL FRANKEN: I won my first election by 312 votes - could have easily gone the other way.

GREENE: And that narrow win is something both parties are thinking about a lot now. Democrats control Minnesota by a very thin margin. In fact, President Trump nearly won that state. So can Democrats hang onto Franken's Senate seat in 2018? Let's talk about it with Democratic pollster Margie Omero, a frequent guest on our program. She's in our studios.

Hey, Margie.

MARGIE OMERO: Good morning.

GREENE: So Franken said he'll resign in the coming weeks. What happens next?

OMERO: So next, Governor Dayton, depending on the exact date he resigns - but what is most likely to happen is that Governor Dayton will appoint somebody who will serve out the term until the next regular election, which would be in November of 2018. And then that election will - the voters will select who will fill out the rest of the term until 2020. At that point, there will be another election for the next term.

GREENE: OK. So the governor, Mark Dayton - seems like it's likely he'll appoint his lieutenant Tina Smith. But it's sounding like she doesn't want to finish out the term, which would mean a wide-open election for 2018. Is - I mean, is - could Republicans win that seat? How worried are Democrats?

OMERO: So Minnesota is one of those battleground states that has been called part of the blue wall - right? - which includes Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, parts of upstate New York, if it was its own state. And a lot of those areas went to - despite being democratic for a while - went to Trump. Minnesota was one of those states that did not go to Trump.

But the narrow - the margin by which Clinton won it was a lot narrower than Obama's victory over Romney, where he won the state by 8 points. And then Clinton won it by basically 1 point. And you have half the congressional districts in the state that are battleground - very competitive congressional districts. The governor's seat itself is open. You have Senator Amy Klobuchar who's up in 2018. You have a lot...

GREENE: A lot.

OMERO: ...Of statewide races that are battleground statewide races down the ballot in 2018. So Minnesota is going to be a competitive state. There's a pretty big bench for both parties, so it could very easily be a battleground state. But in Democrat's advantage is the overall electoral climate. So taking Minnesota out of the equation, Democrats are strong around the country. Democrats are mobilized to run for office and to vote for Democrats. You saw that in Virginia in early November. You have many, many candidates signing up, raising their hand all over the country.

GREENE: So scary moment if there's another seat that Democrats have to try and fight for. But you like the way the winds have been blowing, in theory, at this moment?

OMERO: Well, when you have such an unpopular president as Donald Trump is - when you have Republicans in Congress and Senate so far to the mainstream - so out of whack with where voters are - all the issues surrounding women's issues are obviously one very clear piece of it. But there are lots of other divisions between the two parties that really reinforce our core values.

You have a lot of Democrats who are saying this is the year. I can't sit on the sidelines anymore. I can't stay out of the game. I can't not get involved. And so that's why you have competitive primaries in every race.

GREENE: Can I just ask you - I mean, with Conyers announcing his resignation, with Al Franken - I mean, women's issues, sexual harassment, these are issues that Democrats - they feel like they've had the moral high ground on. Have they ceded that this week in some ways and through all this?

OMERO: Absolutely not. Look - it's a sad day for Senator Franken to resign. That makes Democrats sad. And the reason it's sad is not because of the calculation of competitive seats but because Franken is and was an advocate for women's equality in a variety of other capacities in his life.

What you see for Republicans is that you have a lot of these folks - these admitted abusers - who are also not advocates for women's equality in any other part of their life. And you have Republican Party establishment who say, you know, we're going to ignore these abuses not because we care about women's equality but because we care more about tax cuts for the wealthy.

GREENE: Margie Omero is a Democratic pollster and a partner at GBA Strategies. Margie, thanks as always.

OMERO: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.