Housley kicks off Senate bid focused on November election

Republican State Sen. Karin Housley kicked off her U.S. Senate campaign Monday squarely focused on the November election, even as other Republicans await word from former Gov. Tim Pawlenty on a potential bid. 

The stakes are high in the unexpected race for the Senate seat vacated by Al Franken, who resigned earlier this month following sexual misconduct allegations. New Sen. Tina Smith, the Democrat appointed to replace him, is likely to go unchallenged in her party as Democrats face a tough path to reclaiming the Senate majority. 

Housley is the lone Republican in the race, having announced her campaign within days of Franken's December announcement that he would resign. While GOP operatives in Minnesota and Washington prize Pawlenty's fundraising prowess for a 10-month campaign, he's kept largely silent about the race, and no other Republicans have expressed a whiff of interest. 

As if to show her mettle during her first formal campaign event, Housley told a crowd of roughly 100 supporters in downtown Stillwater about being inspired to write a book on investing after being told by her financial planner to focus on cooking meals and changing diapers. 

"I'm running for all the women who have been underestimated," she said. "I will never be silent when it comes to things issues that matter." 

The second-term state senator drew the rough contours of her Senate campaign platform: prioritizing helping small businesses, protecting seniors and improving care for veterans. She made no reference to a potentially high-powered challenger, focusing on the general election by starting a statewide tour to raise her profile this month and a trip to Washington to start building support within her party. 

But her legislative record also gives Democrats a line to attack Housley. Within minutes of Housley's formal campaign kickoff, Democratic party chair Ken Martin criticized Housley's vote on a bill last year that would have blocked cities from raising their own minimum wages or imposing sick leave policies.
   "Throughout her time at the State Capitol, she has consistently opposed much-needed policies to help Minnesota families stay afloat," Martin said in a statement. 

Longtime Pawlenty adviser and former top aide Brian McClung said the governor is still considering his options -- including another look at his old office. But Pawlenty has been out of office for seven years, and never won more than 46 percent of the statewide vote in his two terms as governor. 

Housley enters the race with a name recognition boost from her husband, Minnesota hockey legend and current Buffalo Sabres coach Phil Housley. She's also demonstrated fundraising chops that will be critical in a race expected to cost $30 million or more, pulling in $150,000 in the final 12 days of 2017.

Even as others wait on Pawlenty's decision, Housley supporters like former state Rep. Marty Seifert say she's the better candidate, with the right mix of political experience and a fresh face to win over voters. 

"It puts the race in play," Seifert said. "She's a dream candidate for what Republicans are looking for."