Minnesota’s next senator: Quiet organizer, late to politics

The woman who will be Minnesota’s next U.S. senator is a largely behind-the-scenes player who came to elected office late in her career and passed up a major shot at power just a few months ago.

Tina Smith isn’t passing a second time. Gov. Mark Dayton on Wednesday named his trusted lieutenant governor and former chief of staff to fill fellow Democrat Al Franken’s Senate seat until a special election next November.

Smith said she also will run in that election to complete the final two years of Franken’s term.

The appointment comes less than a year after Smith, widely seen as being groomed to succeed Dayton, announced that she wouldn’t run for governor.

Smith said in a Facebook post at the time that she had “never expected nor planned” to serve in elected office.

Indeed, her path to politics was indirect.

Smith, 59, a native of Albuquerque, New Mexico, moved to Minnesota in 1984 after earning an undergraduate degree at Stanford and an MBA from Dartmouth to take a job in marketing for General Mills.

She became increasingly politically active in the 1990s, founding a marketing and political consulting firm in 1992. She managed former Vice President Walter Mondale’s unsuccessful 2002 Senate campaign, four years after she ran the unsuccessful governor campaign of Mondale’s son Ted.

She was vice president of external affairs for Planned Parenthood Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota from 2003-06, a post that doesn’t appear on her official state bio page. After that, she served as chief of staff to Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak.

Rybak, a former Democratic National Committee vice chairman, said voters shouldn’t confuse Smith’s decision to skip the governor’s race in 2018 with…

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