In 2017, Lindsey Port of Burnsville was a rising star in the DFL Party.
Port was a promising first-time candidate for a state House seat when she opened up about something personal, an event from two years earlier at a party campaign event.
She said then-Sen. Dan Schoen (DFL-St. Paul Park) glibly told her he could tell how good a candidate was at getting out there and door-knocking by looking at their butts, as MinnPost reports. Later, Port says, he grabbed her rear end and told her she had a “good door-knocking ass.”
She wasn’t the only one claiming harassment; Schoen's alleged habits included “persistent and unwanted invitations to meet” and even an unsolicited dick pic. Schoen “unequivocally” denied it all, but soon resigned.
At first, people praised Port for her bravery. Then Al Franken happened.
Minnesotans loved the DFL U.S. senator's brash humor and his liberal politics. Groping allegations from several women against Franken did not go down as smoothly as stories about Schoen. Many were loath to lose a senator—and jeopardize his seat.
Just like that, some started seeing Port’s account in a less rosy light. Port hadn’t accused Franken of anything, nor had she requested that he resign. But as MinnPost reported, some said she’d somehow “softened the ground” for his departure.
Port’s nonprofit lost $70,000 the week Franken announced his resignation, and her campaign lost another $6,000. One supporter reportedly told her she was “too controversial” to back. People stopped returning her calls. Conspiracy theories about Port and other women who came forward being secret operatives, paid to get rid of Franken, metastasized on the internet.
Early in 2018, Port suspended her campaign.
“I know this is likely to probably end my political career, at least for the time being, in Minnesota,” she told MinnPost. “That sucks, but it feels like this is a necessary part of the story to keep telling.”
For a while, that was that. Port went back to work in Burnsville, and Franken cloistered himself in Minneapolis until he started putting out feelers about returning to the public eye.
Turns out, Port's comeback comes first: She's running for the Minnesota Senate seat held by Sen. Dan Hall (R-Burnsville), a third-term senator with a distinctively anti-LGBT voting record. In the first 24 hours, HuffPost reports, she raised $10,000. On Monday morning, she was in good spirits.
“It feels really great to be back out there again,” she says. Knocking on doors just happens to be her “happy place.”
Port’s nonprofit, Blueprint Campaigns, is designed to help new and often underrepresented candidates run for office. In 2018, she watched a number of young people get unprecedented traction on campaigns—women, queer folks, people of color—thought about campaigning again herself.
She built her platform on securing more state funding for schools, dragging the Legislature by the nose to finally passing gun control laws like universal background checks, and making health care more affordable.
“My husband and I both buy insurance on the MNSure market, and it’s more expensive than our mortgage,” she says.
But she can’t help but notice a trend in how her announcement has been received. Various pieces have been written in local and national media, and some barely even mention her name. A lot of them mention Franken’s. She reiterates she didn’t have anything to do with his downfall, but knows the former senator looms large over her story.
“It’s been frustrating to see how much of the focus is on the men,” she says. She’s tired of seeing the women of #MeToo “sidelined” while onlookers wring their hands over the fates of powerful, fallen men—time after time. That’s partially why she’s running again—to “take that back.”
But there are plenty of challenges ahead that have nothing to do with Franken or her own #MeToo experience. President Donald Trump’s campaign for reelection is salivating to see Minnesota turn red in 2020, and out-of-state contributions could put an outsized thumb on the local electoral scales.
Port’s job is to fight through that “noise” and reach the people who matter—her would-be constituents.
In 2018, Port stepped aside because all anyone wanted to talk about was Al Franken. This time, she’s hoping they ask about her.