MINNEAPOLIS – Democratic Gov. Tim Walz and Republican challenger Scott Jensen scored easy victories Tuesday in their primaries to set the stage for their fall matchup in Minnesota’s top race this fall, while business lawyer Jim Schultz won the GOP primary to take on Democratic Attorney General Keith Ellison.
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 COVID-19 pandemic against him. Both men easily overcame little-known or perennial candidates to formalize a race that’s already been underway for months.
In the attorney general's race, Schultz beat Doug Wardlow, who narrowly lost to Ellison in 2018. Ellison easily beat perennial candidate Bill Dahn in Tuesday's Democratic primary. The November election is expected to turn on views about public safety and abortion.
Walz came out swinging in a victory email to supporters. “Reproductive freedom, paid family leave, the funding to provide our children with the education they deserve, voting rights, the safety of our LGBTQ+ kids, and so much more all hang in the balance,” he said.
Jensen told The Associated Press that he wants Walz to agree to more debates than the one they have held so far, saying Minnesota residents want “a robust and transparent campaign season.”
Schultz told the AP he won by delivering a message that residents want to feel safe and deserve better than the “incredibly reckless” policies that Ellison has embraced on policing.
“People desperately want someone who can beat Keith Ellison,” Schultz said.
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.
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 supports an abortion ban but last month changed amended his position to allow exceptions for rape and incest and to protect the mother's physical or mental health.
Abortion also colored the attorney general's campaign, with Ellison attacked by both Republicans.
He has long been a staunch supporter of abortion rights, and angered conservatives by declining to appeal a recent ruling by a state judge who declared most of Minnesota’s restrictions on abortion unconstitutional, including a 24-hour waiting period and a requirement that both parents be notified before a minor gets an abortion. Minnesota is becoming an island of legal abortion in the Upper Midwest. Ellison has pledged to fight against any states trying to prosecute women for coming to Minnesota to get abortions.
Wardlow challenged Schultz against the wishes of his own party, dismissing what he called the “elites” atop the party.
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.