Trump critic, former Bush ethics lawyer Richard Painter announces US Senate bid in Minnesota

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.

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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.

Erika Goldring/Getty Images
Richard Painter speaks during the 2018 Unrig the System Summit at the McAlister Auditorium at Tulane University on Feb. 3, 2018 in New Orleans.

“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.

PHOTO: In this file photo, Minnesota Lt. Governor Tina Smith waves to journalists at the end of a news conference in Havana, June 22, 2017. Alexandre Meneghini/Reuters
In this file photo, Minnesota Lt. Governor Tina Smith waves to journalists at the end of a news conference in Havana, June 22, 2017.

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, who has been in office since January 3rd and was first elected as the state’s Lieutenant Governor in 2014, did not comment directly on the news of Painter’s announcement, but a statement released by her campaign said she looked forward to winning the support of Minnesotans.

“Senator Smith is focused on working hard and being a strong advocate for the people of Minnesota, and she looks forward to earning and asking Minnesotans for their support,” a statement released by Smith’s campaign Monday said.

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.

PHOTO: Sen. Al Franken listens during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Capitol Hill, Sept. 20, 2017 in Washington.Alex Brandon/AP
Sen. Al Franken listens during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Capitol Hill, Sept. 20, 2017 in Washington.

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 criticized Painter’s calls to impeach President Trump, warning that his entrance will force Smith to the left in the Democratic primary and cause trouble for her in the general election.

“Richard Painter’s entrance into the race for United States Senate brings Minnesotans more of the same from the Democratic Party – extremism, obstruction, and values out of touch with hardworking Minnesotans,” Housley said in a statement released by her campaign Monday, “Mr. Painter has repeatedly called for the impeachment of President Trump, an extreme notion deeply unpopular with many in our state. Minnesotans will reject Mr. Painter’s façade for exactly what it is – an attempt to delegitimize our president and force Tina Smith even farther to the left.”