Tina Smith

ST. PAUL (AP) — Minnesota's next senator could face a clear path to the 2018 general election.

Support poured in immediately among Democrats for Lt. Gov Tina Smith's appointment to replace Sen. Al Franken. That included a 2018 endorsement from Rep. Keith Ellison, who had been weighing a bid himself.

Ellison says he decided uniting Democrats to keep Franken's seat in the party's hands was more important than his own ambition.

It leaves little room for a credible Democratic challenger to Smith, who says she'll run for the seat next year. State Sen. Melisa Franzen is one of few who is mulling a run.

No Republicans have launched a 2018 campaign since Franken's resignation last week. Former Gov. Tim Pawlenty is considering a bid.