Democrats put late money into Smith-Housley race

U.S. Sen. Tina Smith (left) and state Sen. Karin Housley Mark Zdechlik | MPR News

Seldom is a campaign so excited for its candidate to be attacked.

Republican state Sen. Karin Housley welcomed a late infusion of national Democratic money in the U.S. Senate race this week, taking it as a sign of worry about DFL Sen. Tina Smith’s standing with days to go.

“Saving Tina Smith,” blared the subject line of an email Thursday from Housley’s campaign.

First it was $400,000 from the Senate Majority PAC, aligned with Democrats, used to buy online ads criticizing Housley on health care issues. That was followed by a purchase of television time reported to be in the high six figures by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, also taking aim at Housley over health care. The ads were already in heavy rotation on cable and broadcast stations on Thursday.

A third group, Planned Parenthood of Minnesota Political Action Fund, spent another $80,000 on pro-Smith campaign content.

Polling has shown Smith with a lead throughout the race, but not the type of runaway advantage that fellow Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat, has in her race against Republican state Rep. Jim Newberger.

Housley has barnstormed the state and was set to begin an extensive bus tour late Thursday, with stops at all hours of the coming days. Her campaign pushed back at the assertions in the new ad, but aides were otherwise thrilled that Democrats were playing defense.

“With only days to go, the Democrats are tripping over themselves as they try to rescue Tina Smith’s failing campaign,” said Housley spokesman Jake Schneider.

It was unclear if national Republican money would be put up to counter the Democrats. Housley benefitted earlier from $100,000 in advertising by from the Great America PAC, which is billed as a Super PAC in tune with President Donald Trump.

But compared to other places and even other Minnesota races, the contest between Smith and Housley hasn’t gained much national attention. In the struggle for Senate control, both parties have focused on hotspots elsewhere on the map.

The winner will serve the final two years of an unexpired term of Al Franken, who resigned in January amid sexual harassment allegations. Smith, the former lieutenant governor, has been in the position for about 10 months after being appointed by Gov. Mark Dayton.

Smith appeared Thursday at a party get-out-the-vote rally at the state Capitol. She urged her fellow Democrats to push hard to turn out voters in the campaign’s final days.

“In the time that I have been your senator I have been all over this state. I’ve been in the red counties, the blue counties and all of the counties in between,” Smith said. “People tell me they are so tired of this politics of blame and division. They know we are better than what we have seen. They know that we can work together to accomplish great things for this country and for this state.”

Smith has had a decided fundraising edge throughout the campaign, raking in $8.2 million through mid-October compared with about $4 million for Housley. But both have raised equal amounts in large contributions — $218,000 — over the last two weeks, according to federal records.

Smith and Housley were set to debate Thursday night and have a second meeting scheduled for Sunday night on MPR News.

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