Electing Tina Smith in Minnesota


The special election for Senate in Minnesota in 2018 offered a unique set of circumstances. Tina Smith was appointed to the office after Al Franken’s resignation; she was tasked with running an 11-month campaign and, if successful, would need to turn around and run again in 2020.  Smith was essentially an incumbent without the benefits of incumbency, and she was forced to introduce herself to an electorate and build a campaign with no time to spare.


Guided by GQR’s early research, Smith and her team put together a three-stage strategy to not only win in 2018, but prepare for a 2020 re-election campaign. Smith brought very important qualities to the campaign, including a deep connection with Minnesotans and the ability to listen and understand people in a way that is unusual for elected officials.

Our research helped Smith:

  • Introduce herself to voters as a listener, a problem-solver, and a person not motivated by partisanship. Smith is willing to listen to and work with anyone, which many voters believe is out of favor in Washington. This was critical in building trust and conveying that her core motivation is to be an advocate for all Minnesotans.
  • Establish an issue agenda that advocates for Minnesotans on health care and prescription drugs, and an economic agenda that included advocacy for Minnesota’s agriculture and farmers and expanding career and skills training.
  • Frame a contrast between Smith and her opponent: Karin Housley. While much of the campaign was devoted to Smith’s positive agenda and advocacy, her team developed a contrast based on the core question of advocacy. Housley’s record was clear, as she had chosen to side with the big insurers and prescription drug companies in ways that were harmful to Minnesotans.

We congratulate Senator Smith on her 53-42 percent victory, as Minnesota becomes the sixth current state to have women as both sitting Senators.