Lt. Gov. Tina Smith’s decision not to run for governor gives clarity to the 2018 race. Smith would have been a formidable candidate, given her unusual blend of both business and progressive bona fides after a career with both General Mills and Planned Parenthood, and an ability — given her electoral perch — to command some media attention.

The focus is now on U.S. Rep. Tim Walz, who is seen by DFL operatives as a quality retail candidate with a good résumé — teacher, veteran — who can win votes in greater Minnesota, where the party got shellacked in 2016. On the downside, he is unknown in the metro and nearly lost his 2016 re-election.

A DFL source said Walz is telling people he is running. Expect an announcement soon.

Smith’s absence from the 2018 race also changes the legislative endgame, as Gov. Mark Dayton and GOP lawmakers haggle over a two-year budget that will top $40 billion. Here’s why: Both Vice President Dick Cheney and Vice President Joe Biden were viewed as particularly strong advisers to their presidents because the electoral careers of both were perceived to be finished. That freed them of their own political considerations as they gave advice to their bosses — and allowed them to bring down the hammer without worrying about short-term political ramifications.

Here’s what Smith said about losing the distraction of electoral politics: “The dynamic of a campaign in 2018 hangs over a lot of people at the Legislature, and I will be really glad it doesn’t hang over me anymore.”

In other words, she can return to being Gov. Mark Dayton’s chief fixer, while other lawmakers — like House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown — have to watch every move with an eye on 2018.

Tip your server well

Speaking of Daudt and 2018, his move to prevent the House from instituting a nearly $14,000 pay raise most certainly allowed him to sidestep a rain of negative ads, even though the increase was approved by the nonlegislators on the Legislative Salary Council that is tasked with setting lawmaker salaries.

But Daudt’s move may not have made everyone in his GOP caucus happy. Rep. Mary Franson, R-Alexandria, on Twitter: “Finally got to work to wait tables. And constituent coming there to discuss walleye stamps in a bit. A legislator is always working.”