Sat | Oct 20, 2018

Smith's Senate odyssey begins with sprint toward November

Published:Monday | January 8, 2018 | 12:00 AM

Just days after being sworn into the US Senate, Tina Smith is on a crash course to find her way in the chamber and find time for a 10-month campaign sprint towards a special election to keep her new job.

The Minnesota Democrat's first weekend back home after replacing Al Franken was a whirlwind of appearances, starting at a suburban manufacturer to talk job training, then up north to Duluth and the Iron Range region to highlight illegal steel dumping, then back to her hometown of Minneapolis.

It's just the start of a non-stop juggling game Smith will need to master to win the November special election against a yet-to-be-determined Republican, balancing the demands of her new job in Washington while criss-crossing the state to increase her visibility and raise more than $10 million for the campaign.

Unlike her fellow new freshman, Alabama Democratic Senator Doug Jones, Smith doesn't have nearly three years to fundraise and campaign. That meant Friday's visit to the Minneapolis suburb of Stacy to tour a manufacturing plant was a mix of work and campaign politics - as nearly every day on her calendar will be until November 6.

"My No. 1 priority is to be the best senator that I can be. That is my job. It certainly is a challenge," she said of the schedule she'll have to keep.

"But it's a challenge that I'm up for."

Smith's ascension from little-known lieutenant governor to national news story was set in motion by allegations of sexual misconduct that pushed out Franken.

In her first week, Smith dealt with rudimentary paperwork for the Senate and finding a place to live in Washington - a process she called "apartment speed dating." She is seeking prized committee assignments, including a spot on the Senate Agriculture Committee, ahead of an expected push for a new farm bill this year. Rather than build up a 50-person office from the ground, Smith carried over most of Franken's staff.