By Esme Murphy

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Lt. Gov. Tina Smith’s appointment as a U.S. Senator will mark the first time she has ever held a political office in her own right.

Smith became Minnesota’s lieutenant governor in 2015, but never ran for office on her own.

She’s widely seen as being one of the most powerful and influential lieutenant governors in Minnesota history, redefining the role from largely ceremonial to that of top adviser and powerful surrogate. Her work ensured she was a top contender to replace Sen. Al Franken.

Dayton praised Smith Wednesday morning for her accessibility, and her toughness.

“I have worked with many superb public officials in my 40-year career,” he said. “Tina stands first and foremost among them.”

Smith was born in New Mexico and graduated from Stanford University. She began her professional career in business moving to Minnesota in the 1980s for a marketing job at General Mills. She later formed her own marketing and public relations company.

Smith later served as a top adviser for Vice President Walter Mondale’s very brief and unsuccessful run for Senate in 2002 after the death of Paul Wellstone.

After that, Smith became the vice president of Planned Parenthood of Minnesota and North Dakota before becoming Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak’s chief of staff in 2006. She also ran Rybak’s unsuccessful campaign for Governor in 2010.

In 2011, Smith was named Gov. Dayton’s chief of staff, and became lieutenant governor in 2015.

The question for Smith, now, is how she will hold up as a candidate in her own right in 11 months.

Larry Jacobs is the director of political studies at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey Institute.

“The issue is, is Tina Smith up to the job of being the candidate, no longer being the staffer, or being the Lt Governor to Mark Dayton? But being the person who’s upfront, who has the attack ads running against her,” he said.

If Smith wins that election for the U.S Senate next November, she will have to run again in 2020, when Franken’s term would have expired.

Smith is married and has two adult sons.

Esme Murphy

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