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Minnesota Democrats endorse Smith, Klobuchar

U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, with her daughter and husband, take the stage Friday night to accept the Minnesota Democratic Party endorsement for her third term in Washington. Don Davis/ Forum News Service

 ROCHESTER, Minn. — Minnesota's two U.S. senators faced little trouble getting their party's endorsement to stay in office, but Sen. Tina Smith first needed to fend off three challengers, including one well known to cable television news viewers.

Smith, appointed early this year to replace Al Franken, easily beat Republican-turned-Democrat Richard Painter and two little-known candidates at the Minnesota Democratic Convention Friday night in Rochester.

Smith collected 74.5 percent of the vote, with Painter following at 17.6 percent.

The appointed senator thanked the delegates, then invited them to join her at a Prince music party.

The Friday night focus was on the Senate seat for the two years remaining in Franken's term. "I have spent my life in public service speaking up for Minnesotans who deserve a stronger voice in our government," Smith said to loud applause, promising to fight the president and others who get in her way.

Painter, a long-time critic of President Donald Trump on cable television channels, said he will run against Smith in the Aug. 14 primary election.

Before being appointed senator, Smith was Gov. Mark Dayton's chief of staff, then his lieutenant governor. She also has a business background and is a former Planned Parenthood official.

Smith was not afraid of mentioning Franken, who resigned after several accusations of sexual misconduct. "This is a (Senate) seat for progressives that are not afraid to take a stand for our values," she told delegates. "This is Al Franken's seat. ... Paul Wellstone held this seat. Hubert Humphrey and Walter Mondale held this seat." While Smith has been known mostly as a quiet person who worked behind the scenes, she had a warning: "Don't underestimate me."

The challenge for Smith's job came as the Minnesota Democratic-Labor-Party convention opened in Rochester Mayo Civic Center. The convention lasts through Sunday, with 1,300 delegates picking two U.S. Senate candidates and statewide elected officials. They also will write a platform of policies Democrats support.

On opening night, besides debating the Smith Senate seat, delegates unanimously picked U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar for her third term in Washington.

Klobuchar faced no Democratic opposition, but in the Nov. 6 election Republican state Rep. Jim Newberger of Becker will challenge her.

"Right now, it's pretty much a nonstop shoutfest on TV," Klobuchar said in remarks prepared to be delivered to the convention. "But instead of fighting about what's left and what's right, what we really ought to be talking about is the difference between what's right and what's wrong."

After a lengthy walk into the convention arena, surrounded by supporters, Klobuchar fired up delegates by talking about her accomplishments and about how politics needs more Minnesota values.

"When I look out here tonight, I see Minnesota," the senator said. "I see that tenacity that gets us through the cold of winter, the ingenuity that's makes us home to some of the best companies and workers in the world, the humility that keeps us working together, searching for common ground."

She especially took on drug companies that make opiods.

"We don't have to hate them," Klobuchar said. "We don't even have to stop working with them. But I'll tell you this: We have to stop working for them."

Smith, 60, is known as a quiet person, but delivered a fiery speech to delegates.

She is a long-time Democratic activist and was expected to win.

Painter received a better response from Democrats than many expected.

Painter, 56, is a University of Minnesota professor and former ethics lawyer for President George W. Bush.

Painter admitted to the Democrats that he has a reputation for not smiling, but said there is not much reason to smile while Trump is in office.

He spoke out against campaign finances that he said were bribes to public officials, an issue that often is well received by Democrats. He also talked about impeaching Trump, to loud applause from delegates.

"The system is corrupt and represents the monied interests instead of the people," Painter said.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.