DFL in bitter clash with Senate candidate Richard Painter

July 31, 2018

Leaders of Minnesotas Democratic Party are in a heated feud with U.S. Senate candidate Richard Painter, a former Republican and ethics lawyer in President George W. Bushs White House who is challenging Sen. Tina Smith in the upcoming DFL primary.

State DFL Chair Ken Martin called Painter a wolf in sheeps clothing who refuses to say he is a Democrat. In an interview, he described Painters decision to run as a craven act of desperation because [he doesnt] fit in the Republican Party anymore.

Painter said that he wont swear allegiance to a party but would caucus with Senate Democrats if hes elected, and would vote for Smith if she beats him in the Aug. 14 primary. The DFL, he said in an interview, is applying a litmus test instead of talking about issues.

Painter, a University of Minnesota law professor and critic of President Donald Trump, said in March that he was weighing a Senate campaign. I need to think about whether theres a place for me in the GOP, he said then.

In April, Painter said he would run as a Democrat. Im out of the Republican Party, he said. Im fed up.

Smith was endorsed by the DFL and raised $4.5 million for her campaign through the end of June. Painter reported donations totaling $171,153. An NBC News/Marist Poll released last week found that Smith had a 14-point lead in a general-election matchup against state Sen. Karin Housley, the state GOPs endorsed candidate.

The DFL-Painter rupture burst into public view last Thursday. After an interview in which Painter declined to call himself a Democrat aired, an e-mail from the party said Democrats should not be fooled by Painters blatant political opportunism and attempt to deceive voters.

It cited other Painter quotes about his politics, including one from March 11: Im not likely to run as a Democrat.

In response, the Painter campaign said that the DFLs desperate attacks demonstrate that he is a true threat to win this election. It criticized Smiths support for a land swap for the PolyMet copper-nickel mine, Trumps steel tariffs and the repeal of a medical device tax. Smiths financial disclosure filing shows that she owns med-tech company stocks.

The DFL followed that with another broadside on Monday, blasting Painters paid affiliation with the Diana Davis Spencer Foundation, which it said funnels MILLIONS OF DOLLARS to groups linked to the conservative political network overseen by industrialist Charles Koch.

Painter told the Star Tribune that he serves on the foundations audit and investment committees. I have no role in where they give the money, he said. The foundation made the same point in a statement issued Monday.

Any assertion that he is connected to the Koch network is a lie, Painter said, and he would begin to sever such relationships if he wins the primary election.

Martin is not satisfied. He said Painter should apologize for the waterboarding of terrorism suspects and the nominations of conservative Supreme Court justices during his tenure in the second Bush White House.

Hes trying to avoid his past, said Martin.

Painter said in a statement that his White House job was a non-policy position. He investigated Supreme Court nominees finances but wasnt involved in choosing them and made it clear before taking the job in 2005 that he objects to torture, he said.

I am not going to apologize for my service to the country, Painter said.

Martin also noted that Painter donated to the National Republican Senatorial Committee before the 2002 election funds the group used to oppose U.S. Sen. Paul Wellstones re-election campaign.

Painter said his contributions were meant to support moderate candidates and he hasnt given to any Republican organization since 2004.

Intraparty primary battles can be testy, but its rare for one to become so intense and public. U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, an independent who caucuses with Democrats, was criticized during his 2016 Democratic presidential campaign for not joining the party. Hes seeking re-election this year as an independent.

The DFLs charges dont surprise Painter. Its just politics, he said.

Smith said in a statement that anyone running for the DFL nomination should at the least be able to proudly say they are a Democrat that word means something to me and all of us who have worked on behalf of Democratic values all our lives.

The party welcomes candidates who dont agree with its core principles on issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage, Martin said, but we do expect people to stand up and say, Im a Democrat.andthinsp;

Martin said he is confident Smith will win but wants to ensure that DFL voters know the whole picture about Painter. If people make the conscious decision to vote for him, thats their prerogative, obviously, he said.

Judy Keen 612-673-4234

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