MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Democratic Gov. Tim Walz and Republican challenger Scott Jensen scored easy victories in their primaries Tuesday, setting the stage for their fall matchup in Minnesota’s marquee race for governor.
Walz is seeking his second term under the same “One Minnesota” slogan he used four years ago, but in an ever more polarized environment where Jensen and the GOP are seeking to turn his management of the pandemic against him. Both men easily overcome little-known or perennial candidates to formalize a race that’s already been underway for months.
In another top race, voters were choosing between two Republicans vying to take on Democratic Attorney General Keith Ellison in a race that may turn on views about public safety and abortion. Ellison easily beat perennial candidate Bill Dahn in the Democratic primary.
Republicans have spent months attacking Walz and Ellison on public safety after crime rose in Minneapolis in 2020 and 2021, as in other major cities across the U.S. While homicides are down in Minneapolis so far this year, assaults and burglaries are rising.
Republicans have blamed Walz for a sluggish National Guard mobilization they say enabled the sometimes violent protests that followed George Floyd's killing in 2020, including arson that destroyed a police precinct.
Walz has dismissed “second-guessing” of his moves during the pandemic, which included closing schools, restaurants and businesses and restricting large gatherings during the worst periods, and hit back at Jensen, a physician and former state lawmaker who rose to prominence in part on his COVID-19 vaccine skepticism.
“You can have wishful thinking and you can hope that you know COVID wasn’t real and you can take ivermectin or whatever, but that is not where the facts are," Walz said to Jensen during their first debate just a week before the primary.
Jensen has denied being anti-science, even as one of his vaccine-questioning videos on Facebook drew a cautionary label from the company and a temporary ban on advertising on the site.
Jensen has also gone after Walz on rising inflation, dismissing record-low unemployment as a “false metric” compared with the higher costs consumers are facing.
Retired pastor George Brecheisen, 83, of the Minneapolis suburb of Shakopee, said “law and order” was the big reason he voted for Jensen and his running mate, former Vikings center Matt Birk. He said Walz was too slow in sending the National Guard to stop unrest after Floyd’s murder.
“From what I’ve heard, they believe in Republican things about spending, about law and order, generally how a state should be run,” Brecheisen said.
Democrat Barb Atkinson, 53, a part-time event planner for a radio station who lives in downtown Minneapolis voted for Walz, praising his pandemic restrictions, saying they were based on science and the advice he was getting from medical professionals.
“He took it seriously. It was not a joke. It wasn’t fake. We lost over a million people to this,” Atkinson said.
Walz has pledged to protect abortion rights in Minnesota, which became an island for legal abortion after the U.S. Supreme Court reversed Roe v. Wade, allowing surrounding states' bans on the procedure to take effect. Jensen has downplayed the prospect of immediate change on abortion if he's elected, but in July he softened his call for an abortion ban to allow exceptions for rape and incest and to protect the mother's physical or mental health.
In the Republican attorney general primary, business attorney Jim Schultz won the party's endorsement to take on Ellison. But Doug Wardlow, who narrowly lost to Ellison in 2018, was mounting a primary challenge against his own party's wishes, dismissing “elites” atop the party. Both Schultz and Wardlow attacked Ellison for rising crime and for his support of abortion rights.
Wardlow is general counsel at MyPillow and an ally of its founder, Mike Lindell, a leading booster of false claims that the 2020 election was stolen from Donald Trump.
Associated Press writer Doug Glass contributed. Ahmed is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.
Steve Karnowski And Trisha Ahmed, The Associated Press