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As DFL Gov. Mark Dayton considers one of the most important political appointments of his career, he’s now hearing from a growing number of Democrats from Minnesota to Washington about how to fill the seat of outgoing Sen. Al Franken, according to sources in Minnesota and Washington.

The governor is now wrestling with whether to select a placeholder appointee who will not run for the seat or give a Democrat a year’s head start raising money and campaigning for the office permanently.

On Wednesday night, high-ranking Minnesota Democratic sources said the governor was likely to appoint Lt. Gov. Tina Smith, someone who would not run for the seat permanently. That would give both parties equal time to mount campaigns for the historic election next November in which both Senate seats would be on the line.

A Washington political analyst who tracks the Senate said Franken’s decision to resign in a few weeks — rather than immediately — “really raised a lot of eyebrows around here today.”

Jennifer Duffy, senior editor at the Washington-based Cook Political Report, which provides nonpartisan political analysis, said Franken’s timing is generous to his staff, who are all likely to be out of work when he resigns, but also gives Dayton more time to settle on a replacement and hear from those with opinions on how to fill it.

She said top Senate Democratics like Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., would much rather have a replacement who can immediately begin campaigning and raising money. Ultimately, Dayton will decide which way to go.

Dayton issued a statement immediately after Franken’s resignation Thursday saying “I have not yet decided on my appointment to fill this upcoming vacancy. I expect to make and announce my decision in the next couple of days.”

The governor, a former U.S. senator, said he would make no further comments on the subject until he makes a decision.

Meanwhile, a variety of party big names are being floated for the U.S. Senate seat held by Franken: U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, who would be the state’s first black senator; two other U.S. representatives, Rep. Betty McCollum and Rep. Rick Nolan; or state Rep. Ilhan Omar, who would become the Senate’s first Somali-American member.

Several current candidates for governor might also reconsider and run for Franken’s seat, including U.S. Rep. Tim Walz or St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman. Attorney General Lori Swanson, also widely believed to be considering a run for governor, could run for the Senate instead.

Republicans would also try to mount a serious candidate, having not won a statewide race since Tim Pawlenty was re-elected governor in 2006.

U.S. Rep. Tom Emmer or U.S. Rep. Erik Paulsen are also possibilities. State Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka and House Speaker Kurt Daudt could be contenders, as well.

STAFF REPORT