Senate hopeful Painter’s party ties cause flare-up

Richard Painter gives a fiery speech to the crowd of delegates Friday at the DFL State Convention in Rochester Minn.
Richard Painter, a University of Minnesota professor and former White House ethics lawyer, is running for the U.S. Senate in the DFL primary. Jerry Olson for MPR News file

U.S. Senate candidate Richard Painter feuded Friday with the DFL Party, whose line he hopes to occupy on the November ballot in his bid to head to Washington.

The reason? Painter declined to call himself a Democrat in an MPR News story that aired Thursday about his primary race with Sen. Tina Smith, a DFLer who was appointed to the job in January. The party flap cropped up because Painter, until recently, was a self-professed Republican who gained attention for his sharp criticism of President Donald Trump.

DFL officials have accused Painter of political opportunism. Party spokesperson Ellen Perrault emailed reporters Thursday night, charging that Painter was running in a DFL primary "not because he believes in the DFL Party or the values DFLers fight for, but because he viewed it as an easier path than running as a Republican."

Painter, a University of Minnesota law professor and former White House ethics lawyer under President George W. Bush, shot back Friday with a statement professing that his stances on key issues in the race align with "the vast majority of Democratic voters." Painter has run to the left of Smith on some environmental issues.

His campaign said in a statement that he would caucus with Democrats in Washington if he wins but said that forcing candidates to declare allegiance is "a dangerous litmus test."

"Richard Painter WILL NOT swear an oath of allegiance to any person or party, his allegiance is to the people of the United States of America," the statement concludes.

The winner of the Aug. 14 primary will face a Republican in November for a two-year stint. State Sen. Karin Housley is the heavy favorite for the GOP nod. Independent Jerry Trooien and Legal Marijuana Now candidate Sarah Wellington will also be on the fall ballot.

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