MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Contributing to this wild political year is an unexpected United States Senate election for Al Franken’s former seat.

The two major contenders are Sen. Tina Smith — appointed by Gov. Mark Dayton to fill the seat after Franken resigned — and Republican State Senator Karin Housley.

It is a race that is being watched across the country, and is easily expected to top the $40 million raised and spent in Franken’s last race for reelection in 2014.

The two endorsed candidates are not widely known, but they are working to change that.

In Smith’s first speech on the Senate floor Tuesday, she admitted she is often defined by her unlikely rise.

Karin Housley and Tina Smith (credit: CBS)

“Sometimes I’m barely a character in this story. Instead, it’s about a man who held the seat before me, a man I consider to be a good friend,” Smith said.

She served as lieutenant governor under Dayton, and has made more than 90 public appearances around the state in her four-and-a-half months in office. She says the top concern of voters is high health care costs.

“Those kinds of issues determine whether a family has the opportunity to do well or whether they don’t, and that’s what I’m going to be talking about,” she said.

Housley entered the race just days after Franken announced his resignation.

“I knew our message was good from day one, and I knew that I could beat Tina Smith, so I just jumped and started the campaign that day,” she said.

Housley, a strong supporter of President Donald Trump, was first elected to the Minnesota state senate from Stillwater in 2012. She said her top priority is older Minnesotans.

“It’s the one thing that people are counting on me to do is really to take care of our elderly,” Housley said.

Both women say they are energized by what promises to be an intense campaign

“We’re going to be trying to meet and great everybody we can across the whole state, so our focus is on the people of Minnesota,” Housley said.

Smith does have a primary opponent in Professor Richard Painter, a prominent critic of President Trump and a former attorney in President George W. Bush’s administration.

Esme Murphy