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The Human Rights Campaign has endorsed U.S. Sen. Tina Smith, who was appointed to the seat formerly held by Al Franken, who resigned amid sexual harassment allegations.
The endorsement comes as Smith faces a primary challenge from Minneapolis lawyer and fellow Democrat Nick Leonard, and a general election challenge from State Sen. Karin Housely (R-St. Mary’s Point).
Historically, appointed senators are usually vulnerable to challenges because they were not duly elected to office. However, Democrats and their allies want to win back control of the U.S. Senate, and the only way they can do that is by hanging onto control of Smith’s seat.
Equal rights advocates are particularly sensitive about control of the seat, as Housely does not have a pro-LGBTQ record, and a win by her would ensure that the anti-LGBTQ Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) remains in charge of the upper chamber. That, in turn, would likely mean that any legislation that advances LGBTQ rights would be denied a hearing or bottled up in committee.
For its part, the Human Rights Campaign has not mentioned the political significance behind keeping the seat in Democratic control, but has instead praised the state’s junior senator for her pro-LGBTQ record during her time as Gov. Mark Dayton’s chief of staff, and later, as Minnesota’s lieutenant governor.
“Throughout her career, both in the Senate and as Lt. Governor of Minnesota, Tina Smith has been a proven champion for equality who has fought for the rights of all Minnesotans, including the LGBTQ community,” HRC President Chad Griffin said in a statement. “We are proud to endorse her in this race, and look forward to continuing to work with her in the U.S. Senate to move equality forward for all Americans.”
In a news release, HRC specifically cited Smith’s work as Dayton’s chief of staff, a role in which she lobbied Minnesota lawmakers to support a bill legalizing marriage equality and another providing anti-bullying protections for students. Since joining the U.S. Senate, Smith has signed on as a cosponsor of the Equality Act, which would add protections for LGBTQ individuals to the nation’s civil rights laws.
Interestingly, though, HRC has not yet endorsed incumbent Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a pro-LGBTQ Democrat who is up for a regular six-year term this November. In contrast, Smith’s bid this year is only to fill out the remaining two years of Franken’s unexpired term, meaning she will have to run for a full six-year term in November 2020.
Nonetheless, Smith thanked HRC for its endorsement, saying: “I believe in a society that treats all its members with justice and kindness. As Senator, I will do everything I can to defend the progress that’s been made for LGBTQ equality and fight the injustices that still exist for many LGBTQ Americans — whether it’s making sure our youth feel safe in school or guaranteeing that civil rights protections cover all Americans.”
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