Trump critic, former Bush ethics lawyer Richard Painter announces US Senate bid in Minnesota
iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — Richard Painter, the former chief ethics lawyer for President George W. Bush, announced his bid Monday for the U.S. Senate seat once held by Al Franken.
An ardent critic of President Trump and a lifelong Republican, Painter has decided to run as a Democrat, meaning he will have to defeat sitting Sen. Tina Smith, who was appointed to the seat after Franken resigned in January over sexual harassment allegations.
“We are not going to have people representing this state in the House or Senate who are unwilling to stand up to President Trump,” Painter said during his campaign announcement at the Minnesota State Capitol in St. Paul.
Painter, a regular commentator on cable news, is a boisterous Trump critic on both television and social media, and in his campaign announcement offered blunt criticism for the party he once called himself a member of.
“The problem in the Republican Party is that they have made it very clear that nobody is welcome to be a candidate for national office that does not support Donald Trump,” Painter said, “I’m out of the Republican Party, I’m fed up.”
Painter, 56, said that Trump “has demonstrated that he is not fit for office,” and predicted that Democrats will take back both houses of Congress in November and convene hearings in the House and Senate on the president’s alleged misconduct.
“We are well past the point where the House and the Senate convened hearings on the Watergate scandal,” Painter told reporters.
Smith, the state’s former Lieutenant Governor, was appointed to the seat in January by Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton and would serve out the rest of what was Franken’s term through 2020 if she wins a special election in November.
Painter said that while he wants to debate Smith on the issues, he is not focused on running a negative campaign against her.
“I’m not interested in running attack ads against Senator Smith,” Painter said.
Smith’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment from ABC News on Painter’s entry into the race.
With Democrats bullish about the 2018 midterm landscape, it is unclear how competitive the race to unseat Smith will be in November. Cook Political Report, a non-partisan newsletter that analyzes campaigns and elections, currently rates the seat as “Lean Democratic.”
Minnesota’s other U.S. Senate seat, held by Democrat Amy Klobuchar since 2006, is also up in 2018, but the race against her is not expected to be competitive.
But despite a favorable national landscape for Democrats, Republicans are quick to point out that President Trump was narrowly defeated in the state of Minnesota by Hillary Clinton the 2016 election, losing by just over 40,000 votes in a state that has not voted for a Republican candidate for president since Richard Nixon in his landslide re-election victory in 1972.
Minnesota state senator and small business owner Karin Housley is the only major Republican candidate in the race against Smith thus far.
Housley’s campaign did not respond to ABC News’ request for comment on the news of Painter’s candidacy.
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