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Franken exit could be game-changer for control of Senate

WASHINGTON — Republicans may have just gotten another layer of armor to defend their Senate majority.

Sen. Al Franken’s seat wasn’t supposed to be up again until 2020. But his resignation Thursday amid allegations of sexual misconduct creates a 2018 special election in Minnesota. And Republicans, who hold a 52-48 majority, are now on the hunt for a top-tier candidate in a politically competitive state where President Donald Trump lost by less than two percentage points last year.

The unexpected opportunity could be a “total game-changer in terms of control of the Senate,” said Republican strategist Alex Conant, a Minnesota native who worked in communications roles for the Republican National Committee and former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s 2012 presidential campaign. “If,” he added, “we field a strong candidate.”

Pawlenty, 57, is the dream candidate for the GOP, particularly after former Sen. Norm Coleman, who lost his seat to Franken by a few hundred votes in 2008, said Thursday that he won’t run. Pawlenty currently serves as CEO of the Financial Services Roundtable, a Washington lobbying group and is considered a good bet to raise a lot of money quickly. There was no word from him Thursday.

“Everybody in Minnesota on the Republican side is extremely eager to hear from Tim Pawlenty,” said Josh Holmes, a Republican strategist and former chief of staff to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and who is from Minnesota. “He would be a spectacular candidate if he would consider it.”

Holmes added that Franken’s early departure “shifts the landscape” for control of the Senate.

The counterweight for would-be Republican hopefuls is the expectation that they would be running into a headwind in the first midterm of…

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